Beyond Screen Time: A Parent's Guide to Media Use

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Media in all forms, including TV, computers, and smartphones, can affect how children and teens feel, learn, think, and behave. How-?ever, parents (you) are still the most important influence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages you to help your children develop healthy media use habits early on. Read on to learn more.

Media use and your children

You can decide what media use is best for your family. Remember, all children and teens need adequate sleep (8?12 hours, depending on age), physical activity (1 hour), and time away from media. (See the "Media Use Guidelines" chart for general guidelines for media use based on age.)

Because children today are growing up in a time of highly personalized media use experiences, parents must develop personalized media use plans for their children. Media plans should take into account each child's age, health, personality, and developmental stage. Create a Family Media Use Plan online at HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan. By creating a Family Media Use Plan, parents can help children and teens balance their media use with other healthy activities.

Why use digital media?

  • Digital media use can

    • Expose users to new ideas and information.

    • Raise awareness of current events and issues.

    • Promote community participation.

    • Help students work with others on assignments and projects.

  • Digital media use also has social benefits that

    • Allow families and friends to stay in touch, no matter where they live.

    • Enhance access to valuable support networks, especially for people with illnesses or disabilities.

    • Help promote wellness and healthy behaviors, such as how to quit smoking or how to eat healthy.

Why limit media use?

Overuse of digital media may place your children at risk of

  • Not enough sleep. Children with more media exposure or who have a TV, computer, or mobile device in their bedroom sleep less and fall asleep later at night. Even babies can be overstimulated by screens and miss the sleep they need to grow. Exposure to light (particularly blue light) and stimulating content from screens can delay or disrupt sleep, and have a negative effect on school.

  • Delays in learning and social skills. Children who watch too much TV in infancy and preschool years can show delays in attention, thinking, language, and social skills. One of the reasons for the delays could be because they interact less with parents and family. Parents who keep the TV on or focus on their own digital media miss precious opportunities to interact with their children and help them learn. Children and teens often use entertainment media at the same time they're doing other things, such as homework. Such multitasking can have a negative effect on school.

  • Obesity. Watching TV for more than 1.5 hours daily is a risk factor for obesity for children 4 through 9 years of age. Teens who watch more than 5 hours of TV per day are 5 times more likely to have over?weight than teens who watch 0 to 2 hours. Food advertising and snacking while watching TV can promote obesity. Also, children who overuse media are less apt to be active with healthy, physical play.

  • Behavior problems. Violent content on TV and screens can contribute to behavior problems in children, either because they are scared and confused by what they see or they try to mimic on-screen characters.

  • Problematic Internet use. Children who overuse online media can be at risk for problematic Internet use. Heavy video gamers are at risk for Internet gaming disorder. They spend most of their free time online and show less interest in off-line or real-life relationships. There may be increased risks for depression at both the high and low ends of Internet use.

  • Risky behaviors. Teens' displays on social media often show risky behaviors, such as substance use, sexual behaviors, self-injury, or eating disorders. Exposure of teens through media to alcohol, tobacco use, or sexual behaviors is associated with earlier initiation of these behaviors.

  • Sexting and privacy and predators. Sexting is sending nude or seminude images, as well as sexually explicit text messages, using a cell phone. About 12% of youth 10 to 19 years of age have sent a sexual photo to someone else. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they may not be able to delete or remove it completely. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings. Another risk is that sex offenders may use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online games to contact and exploit children.

  • Cyberbullying. Children and teens online can be victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can lead to short- and long-term negative social, academic, and health issues for both the bully and target. Fortunately, programs to help prevent bullying may reduce cyberbullying.

More media use tips for parents, families, and caregivers

  • Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early. Media interfaces are intuitive, and children can learn quickly.

  • Find out what type of and how much media are used and what media behaviors are appropriate for each child—and for you. Place consistent limits on hours of media use as well as types of media used.

  • Select and co-view media with your child so your child can use media to learn, be creative, and share these experiences with your family.

  • Check your children's media use for their health and safety.

  • Stop use of devices or screens for 1 hour before bedtime. Do not let your children sleep with devices such as smartphones.

  • Discourage entertainment media while doing homework.

  • Plan media-free times together, such as family dinners.

  • Decide on media-free, unplugged locations in homes, such as bedrooms.

  • Engage in family activities that promote well-being, such as sports, reading, and talking with each other.

  • Set a good example. Turn off the TV and put your smartphone on "do not disturb" during media-free times with your family.

  • Use sites like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) to help you decide if movies, TV shows, apps, and videos games are age and content appropriate for your children and your family values.

  • Share your family media rules with caregivers or grandparents to help ensure rules are consistent.

  • Talk with your children and teens about online citizenship and safety. This includes treating others with respect online, avoiding cyberbullying and sexting, being wary of online solicitations, and safeguarding privacy.

  • Remember that your opinion counts. TV, video games, and other media producers, airers, and sponsors pay attention to the views of the public. For more information from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), visit http://reboot.fcc.gov/parents.

  • Encourage your school and community to advocate for better media programs and healthier habits. For example, organize a Screen-Free Week in your town with other parents, teachers, and neighbors.

Media Use Guidelines
Age Description Tips
Younger than 2 years Children younger than 2 learn and grow when they explore the physical world around them. Their minds learn best when they interact and play with parents, siblings, caregivers, and other children and adults. Children younger than 2 have a hard time understanding what they see on screen media and how it relates to the world around them.However, children 18?24 months of age can learn from high-quality educational media, IF their parents play or view with them and reteach the lessons.
  • Media use should be very limited and only when an adult is standing by to co-view, talk, and teach (for example, video chatting with family along with parents).

For children 18?24 months, if you want to introduce digital media,

  • Choose high-quality programming.

  • Use media together with your child.

  • Avoid solo media use.

2?5 years of age At 2 years of age, many children can understand and learn words from live video chatting. Young children can listen to or join a conversation with their parents.Children 3?5 years of age have more mature minds, so a well-designed educational program such as Sesame Street (in moderation) can help children learn social, language, and reading skills.
  • Limit screen use to no more than 1 hour per day.

  • Find other activities for your children to do that are healthy for their bodies and minds.

  • Choose media that is interactive, nonviolent, educational, and prosocial.

  • Co-view or co-play with your children.

5 years and older Today's grade-schoolers and teens are growing up immersed in digital media. They may even have their own mobile device and other devices to access digital media.
  • Make sure media use is not displacing other important activities, such as sleep, family time, and exercise.

  • Check your children's media use for their health and safety.

Tweens and teens Tweens and teens are more likely to have some independence in what they choose and watch, and they may be consuming media without parental oversight.
  • Parents should engage tweens and teens in conversations about their media use, digital citizenship, what they've seen or read, who they are communicating with, and what they have learned from their media use.

See "More media use tips for parents, families, and caregivers." Also, create a Family Media Use Plan online at HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan. A Family Media Use Plan is useful to set consistent expectations and limits on media use for parents, children, and teens.

Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of external resources. Information was current at the time of publication.

The persons whose photographs are depicted in this publication are professional models. They have no relation to the issues discussed. Any characters they are portraying are fictional.

The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.