A little more than two years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations on the optimum quantity and quality of screen time for children. Among the new guidelines in the AAP’s policy statement entitled “Media and Young Minds” intended for parents raising toddlers and preschoolers, and the pediatricians who advise them:
— Under 18 months: NO screen time except for video chatting (presumably with tech-savvy grandparents!).
— 18-24 months: Media should be high-quality, have educational value, and be watched with a parent present to help children understand what they are seeing.
— 2-5 years: No more than one hour per day of high-quality programming, again co-viewed with a parent to help children understand and apply what they are seeing to the world around them.
— Avoid fast-paced programs, apps with lots of noisy, distracting content, and any violent content.
— Media-free times (for example, during meals) and locations (a child’s bedroom or while riding in the car) should be designated for all ages.
— Turn off televisions and devices when not in use.
What happens when parents allow their toddlers and preschoolers to watch more than one hour per day of digital media on a growing assortment of devices — TVs, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, video-gaming systems? In a study published last month in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers measured developmental outcomes in children between the ages of 24-36 months who were permitted to watch digital media for an average of 2-3 hours per day. Achievement of developmental milestones indicated by the expected growth of communication skills, motor skills, problem solving abilities, and social skills were measured at 36-60 months of age using a well-established developmental screening tool. Nearly 2,500 Canadian children were included in the study, reports Jacqueline Howard:
The average amount of screen time for children ages 24, 36 and 60 months in the study was about 2.4, 3.6 and 1.6 hours per day, respectively, the researchers found.
The researchers found that greater screen time at 24 months was associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests at 36 months, and greater screen time at 36 months was associated with lower scores on developmental screening tests at 60 months.
“Higher screen time viewing at 2 and 3 years of age was associated with children’s delays in meeting developmental milestones at 3 and 5 years of age, respectively,” [the study’s principal author] said. “This study shows that, when used in excess, screen time can have consequences for children’s development. Parents can think of screens like they do giving junk food to their kids: In small doses, it’s OK, but in excess, it has consequences.”
Howard says that American children spend a lot of time staring at screens:
A separate report released in 2017 by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media found that children 8 and younger spend an average of two hours and 19 minutes a day with screen media.
Most children of all ages in the United States spend a total of about five to seven hours a day in front of a screen, including watching TV, working on a computer or playing video games, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
How much screen time do you allow your children to enjoy each day?