New recommendations for children's screen time and media usage

November 5, 2014 Susanna Block, MD

Screen time is a hot topic for parents, especially in our tech-savvy part of the world. In 2001 the American Academy of Pediatrics addressed the subject of screen time and recommended no more than 2 hours of screen time per day and none for children under 2 years of age . The world has changed considerably since 2001 and screens are more prevalent than ever. Recent surveys suggest that the average child in the US actually spends about 5 hours per day in front of a screen. Recent data (2013) suggest that the average 8 year old spends up to 8 hours per day in front of a screen. Some teens spend up to 11 hours per day in front of a screen. This is not a surprise since 75% of teens have their own phones and most teens text. The average teen sends 3,364 texts per month.

The changing world of media has prompted new recommendations with the hope of fostering a healthy approach to media. New technology provides many learning opportunities but there are also drawbacks. There is still much to learn about how screen time impacts children and research is ongoing. We know that screen time limits active play and social time. New research from the University of California Los Angeles suggests that children who spend time in front of screens may have their ability to recognize emotions limited. The study found that 6th graders who spent 5 days without exposure to technology were better at reading human emotions than kids who have regular access to electronic devices during the study.

Parents are also guilty of overdoing screen time. Children notice this and the consequences can be concerning. One study found that the children of parents who were most absorbed in their devices were more likely to have behavioral problems and act out.

We all use screens in our daily lives and the goal is to have a healthy approach to media. Pediatricians are now including an assessment of media use with their annual wellness exams. Families are counseled to avoid having media in the bedroom and to avoid screen time well before bedtime.

New recommendations include:

  • Consider making a media use plan that includes mealtime and bedtime curfews
  • Co-viewing programs with children and discussing their value
  • Children should not have access to screens and Internet in their bedrooms.
  • No more than 2 hours of entertainment screen time per day
  • Avoid screens for children under 2 years of age

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