New Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatics...we weigh in

Screenagers’ Doctor/Filmmaker POV on AAP’s New Screen time Guidelines

By Dr. Delaney Ruston, M.D./Filmmaker, Screenagers

Photo by quintanilla/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by quintanilla/iStock / Getty Images

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just changed its recommendation of screen use for children. They now recommend that children younger than 18 months “avoid digital media use (except video-chatting),” but kids 18 months and older can use digital media. They also say that children 2 to 5 years should limit their time to one hour a day and for youth 5 years and older they now don't really have a recommended cap on screen time. 

This is a big change from their last set of recommendations back In 2013 that urged parents not to let kids under 2-years old engage with screens at all. Children 2 years and older (all the way up to age 18) were advised to limit exposure to two hours a day. 

I am concerned about some of the age guidelines in these newly revised recommendations: 

*Reducing recommended age to 18 months is troubling. At a time when kids are developing formative habits and have very little ability to self-regulate, many kids will get conditioned to go to screens for comfort, entertainment and just plain novelty.  Also, there is substantial evidence that shows language is learned much better human-to-human than with a computer.

  • They’ve taken away any cap on screen exposure for kids older than five years old. Studies have found a strong correlation between increased screen time and decreased attention span and for pediatricians to not have clear recommendations for limited screen time seems irresponsible
  • The recommendation that 18-month to 2-year-old toddlers should engage with screens only with an adult to co-view with them seems impractical . This is a tall order. Most kids' screen time at that age happens when parents hand them a tablet or a phone so they can take a break

One of the lead authors of the revised AAP recommendations told me the that they changed their guidelines because they felt it was unrealistic for parents to keep their young children off of screens altogether. However, in my opinion, the new recommendations give too much leeway.

Although I don’t agree with some of the age recommendations and lack of direction around time for 5-year-olds and up, I do think it is a great step forward that pediatricians are now recognizing that setting limits and guidelines around screen use with our children is essential. 

I am happy that the guidelines specifically encourage families to regularly talk to their kids about the many issues around screen time. This recommendation is woven throughout our film, Screenagers. To further the film we have started an initiative called Tech Talk Tuesday  (TTT) and in just a few months hundreds of people have pledged. The goal of TTT is to inspire families to have weekly short, calm conversations to help kids gain tech balance through insights and good parenting. We send out weekly topics to promote ongoing discussions.  My recommendations can be summed up in 3 simple T’s as well:

  • Talk to your kids.   Do this calmly, at least weekly, and invite insights from the kids.
  • Time off of screens. Ensure that kids have many offline activities set up in their life so they are getting exercise, face-to-face time, and more.
  • Tech free zones and tech-free times. Make a family agreement by which, working together, you create times that tech should be put away and find places in your life that are not about tech. Cars, bedrooms and dinner tables are great spots for tech-free zones.