Screen Time Guidelines Emphasize Balance not Limits

family-computerScreenagers: Growing up in the Digital Age, a documentary film, follows a family as the grapple with buying their 12-year-old daughter a smartphone. The family struggles with what type of phone is age appropriate and what restrictions to place on the new phone. As we watch them weight the benefits and costs, we see how technology is affecting teenagers socially and physiologically.

One of the teenagers highlighted in the film was Andrew. Andrew struggled with game addiction as a teenager and as an adult he works at ReStart, a treatment center for technology addiction. At our high school showing of Screenagers, we were lucky to have Andrew at the panel discussion following the film.

During the panel, parents asked questions about how to monitor technology. The conversation went from limiting screen time to using parental control software. Reflecting on his own experience, Andrew commented on important it was not to jump in only when there was a problem. Instead of monitoring, he talked about the importance of parents staying involved by asking questions and participating with their kids online.

media-calculatorThis advice echoes the new screen time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Before, the  AAP set hard limits such as no screen time for kids under 2. Today, the new guidelines move away from restrictions. Instead of talking about don’ts, the new policy recognizes the ubiquitous role of media in children’s lives. The focus is on finding balance and teaching kids about a healthy media diet.

What caused this change is the realization that technology in moderation offers many benefits. These benefits include exposure to new ideas and knowledge acquisition, increased opportunities for social contact and support, and new opportunities to access health-promotion messages and information.

When kids are spending too much time online, other areas of their life may suffer. Long sessions online may replace healthy activities. Risks of excessive online use include negative health effects on weight and sleep; exposure to inaccurate, inappropriate, or unsafe content and contacts; and compromised privacy and confidentiality.

The AAP urges families to think proactively about their children’s media use. To help families kick off the discussion, the AAP introduced several new tools and one of them is the Family Media Calculator. Using the calculator, families can look at a typical day and add and subtract time for homework, school, playing and screen time. While they go through the day, the can talk about how to balance their online and offline activities.

“Families need to talk with children about balance, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “Media and Young Minds

The policy does not limit itself to talking only about kids’ use of media. Parents also need to think about their media use and setting an example. In fact, the guidelines say the most important role for parents is to be their child’s media mentor by showing them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.

Here are 5 helpful tips from the AAP:

  • Check out what apps your child is downloading and using, and talk to them about what the apps do and why they find them fun or useful.
  • Establish times during the day when technology is put away, such as at dinner or while driving. Families can also set media-free areas, such as bedrooms.
  • Select games and apps the whole family can play. By playing together, families can talk about using media to learn and be creative.
  • Have ongoing discussions as a family about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
  • Balance the time spent using media and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

To help with adopting a healthy media diet, the AAP released the Media Time Calculator and the Family Media Plan. Both of these tools are designed to help families start the conversation and find balance in online and offline activities. By working together, families can be present in each other’s live both online and offline.