American Pediatricians Group Offers New Guidelines on Children's Media and Tech Use

Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under 2 years old should not be watching any kinds of screens — TV, tablets or smartphones.

But the academy changed its mind and issued different guidelines Friday, stating that live video chatting with another adult, and with adult supervision, is fine. Also, for infants and toddlers age 15 months to 2 years, some small studies indicate that they can learn new words from touchscreen, educational media, as long as parents are watching alongside to help. Solo media use for kids under 2 is still strongly discouraged.

The professional pediatrics organization released its policy statement, “Media and Young Minds: Council on Communications and Media,” Friday, issuing guidelines for children zero to 5 years old.

The AAP stressed that there’s still evidence of harm from excessive digital media use, including the risk of obesity, poorer language skills, social/emotional delays and poorer executive functioning in preschoolers.

Among preschoolers, the academy pointed out that educational programs such as “Sesame Street” can improve cognitive, literacy and social outcomes for children 3-5 years old. Apps from Sesame Workshop and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) have also shown efficacy in teaching literacy skills to preschoolers, the AAP said in its report.

However, most apps parents find under the “educational” category in app stores have no evidence of efficacy, the AAP said, target only rote academic skills, are not based on established curricula and use little to no input from developmental specialists or educators.

The report added that digital books, also called eBooks, often come with interactive enhancements that, research suggests, may decrease children’s comprehension of content or parents’ verbal reading interactions when visual effects are distracting. Parents should interact with children while reading eBooks, just as they would with a print book.

Here are some other findings in the AAP’s report:

  • Heavy media use during preschool years is associated with small but significant increases in body mass index;
  • Exposure to food advertising and watching TV while eating can also lead to weight gain;
  • Increased duration of media exposure and the presence of a TV, computer or mobile device in the bedroom in early childhood have been associated with fewer minutes of sleep per night;
  • Arousing content and the blue light emitted from screens also cut into sleep time;
  • Studies continue to show connections between excessive TV viewing and early childhood and cognitive, language and social/emotional delays;
  • Experimental evidence shows that switching from violent content to educational/pro-social content results in significant improvement in behavioral symptoms, particularly for low-income boys;
  • Parents’ background television use distracts from parent-child interactions and child play;
  • Heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parent and children and may be associated with more parent-child conflict.

The report provides several recommendations for pediatricians, families and even the digital media industry. There's also a link to a Family Media Plan where parents can schedule screen time, screen-free time and other activities. To read the full report, visit the AAP’s website.

The academy also released a separate study Friday, “Digital Media Exposure in School-Aged Children Decreases the Frequency of Homework.”

The study found that children who spent two to four hours a day using digital devices outside of schoolwork had 23 percent lower odds of always or usually finishing their homework, compared to children who spent less than two hours consuming digital media.

Researchers presented the study at the AAP’s 2016 National Conference & Exhibition Friday in San Francisco.

Children who spent four to six hours on digital media had 49 percent lower odds of always or usually finishing their homework, the study found, and kids with six or more hours of media use had 63 percent lower odds of always or usually finishing their homework.

More details on this study can also be found on the AAP’s website.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].