More thoughts on managing kids’ screen time

I’m not a parent, so I’m always interested in how those who are parents deal with child-related organizing issues: handling school papers, assigning chores, etc. Dave’s recent take on managing screen time gave me one more bit of real-life insight.

It’s an interesting topic, partly because not everyone agrees about what’s best — and sometimes the recommendations change. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend zero screen time for those under the age of 2, and that recommendation became widely known. Less widely known, perhaps, is that the group revised its recommendations a bit last October, so it now suggests the following:

  • 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.

Some of this makes intuitive sense to me. For example, letting young children Skype or FaceTime with distant grandparents or travelling parents seems like a good thing. And making sure screen time doesn’t take over a child’s life seems like an obvious goal.

But I feel as though some of the limits are overly restrictive. No matter how much a parent might wish things were different, there are times when using a tablet or smartphone as a babysitter for a child age 5 or younger can be a lifesaver to a parent’s sanity and ability to get essential tasks done. Suzanne Janesse described on how this works in her family. I’m sure many parents have their own similar tales.

As Athena Tsavliris wrote in Today’s Parent, “Reality sometimes calls for the iNanny.” This doesn’t mean that these parents let their children use electronic devices for hours on end, with no controls on the content. But insisting that all screen time with young children should involve co-viewing seems unrealistic in many family situations.

It’s also worth noting that our scientific knowledge regarding the effects of using apps with young children is still evolving. For example, Greg Toppo reported the following in USA Today in 2014:

A recent small-scale trial by New York University researcher Susan B. Neuman, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, found that giving a group of preschoolers the chance to play for just 15 minutes a day on a popular app called Learn with Homer improved their reading skills 74% in a six-week summer period — without the help of a teacher.

So, as with almost anything related to organizing, there are no absolutes that work for everyone. Just make thoughtful decisions about your family’s use of screen time, based on your individual family members’ needs, and adjust those decisions if they don’t seem to be working.

2 Comments for “More thoughts on managing kids’ screen time”

  1. posted by Dorothy on

    Ironically, yourpiece appeared the same day as a Gizmodo piece that cites a University of London study which found that small children sleep less when they use touch screen devices.

  2. posted by Jeffrey Pillow on

    I have two small children (just turned 4 and 6 last week) and my wife and I limit their screentime far more than the average, I assume. No screens during the week except for family movie night every other Friday. We also set limits on the weekend to avoid overstimulation, something that easily takes place in kids but also adults, even though they/we don’t realize it. Overstimulation alters kids’ moods extensively and that was apparent in the past when we didn’t have any real guidelines in place. This an in-depth topic so I won’t attempt detail in a comments section, but for those interested in the topic, and all parents should be, there are a number of well researched books on what technology and screen time does to a child’s developing brain. Empathy, for example. The ability to self soothe. Kids need to be away from screens and outside in nature as much as possible. So do adults. New tech is designed to act like a drug, and we need to stop pretending otherwise because we are users too and don’t want to hold the mirror out in front of us and see our own reflection.

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