“But how will I survive?”
“What you are asking us to do is illegal!”
This is how 7th grade students responded when I challenged them to go “media free” for 24 hours. Yep, I asked them to put down their phones and skip texting, Snapchat, Instagram, and selfies for one day. Many couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it.
When I first assigned this homework to a class six years ago, kids were excited to give it a go. But every year since, this challenge has been met with declining enthusiasm, and this year students rebelled outright.
Last Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its new recommendations for children’s media use. They say, for children 6 and older, parents and caregivers should “place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”
I hope parents have better luck with “media-limiting” than I did.
Is Limiting Media an Impossible Task?
As my seventh graders aptly demonstrated, by 12-13 years of age many children have already formed an arguably unhealthy reliance on media. A Common Sense Media report finds that tweens (ages 8-12) use an average of six hours of media per day; for teens (ages 13-18) it’s nine hours (this does not include time spent using media for school or homework). Limiting media use, it seems, is an uphill battle.
All of this underscores how the AAP found itself a tough spot with its previous recommendations (no screen time for children younger than 2, no more than 2 hours per day for older children). Many (adults) argued that these recommendations were unrealistic given how much time kids were actually spending with tech. But the AAP doesn’t issue its guidelines based on trends; it relies on science.
When I attended the AAP’s symposium last year where researchers gathered to present existing data on the effects of digital media on kids, I learned that even though it’s still early to have a full body of long-term research on the matter, there are plenty of compelling reasons to limit media use at every age (you can read this full report: Children and Adolescents and Digital Media). But knowing what to limit and how to implement these limits are challenges for most parents. So the AAP came up with a tool to solve this problem.
Family Media Plan Tool
Busy parents want and need help now. That’s why the best part of the AAP’s announcement, I think, is its Family Media Plan tool launched on HealthyChildren.org last Friday.
This new interactive, online tool let’s families create a personalized Media Use Plan. By simply inputting some basic information and answering a few questions, a family can get customized guidelines for every child. There’s also a Media Time Calculator that provides a snapshot of how much time each child is spending on daily activities, like sleeping, eating, homework, physical activity, and media use. Also included are AAP recommendations on screen-free zones, media manners, digital citizenship and more.
This tool is the right solution for today’s screen time dilemma. I hope families everywhere will take the time to use it, so that kids will find it easier to balance all the activities that should be part of a their lives.
Following is a summary of the AAP’s new recommendations:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.