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Upgrade your approach to kids’ screen time

Posted 3/7/2016 by UHBlog

For years, the nation’s pediatric experts have advised parents to ban screens before age 2 and limit older kids to two hours daily. These rules from the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, date to 2011 – just after the release of the first iPad.

Sara Lee

Sara Lee, MD
Pediatrician, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Now, 30 percent of kids touch their first screen while still wearing diapers. Three-fourths of teens have smartphones. These policies require an update, the organization admits. At a recent meeting of researchers, educators and doctors, experts recognized the realities of today’s digital world. And they offered these key points to guide parents through it.

For infants and toddlers:

Age 2 and younger remains too early to reap many benefits from technology. What’s more, plunking toddlers in front of a TV or tablet reduces chatter with parents that is critical to brain development. Studies show even just having the TV on in the background reduces the number of words parents speak, meaning less learning for little ones.

That said, a total ban is not necessary, the panel noted. Instead use screens for interaction and to enhance communication. For instance, Sara Lee, MD, a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s, adds, “Video chats with a traveling parent can boost language development in very young children.”

For school-age children:

Once they are a bit older, educational TV and apps can help kids learn, provided you choose them wisely. Organizations like Common Sense Media review apps, games and programs for educational quality. Still, kids at this age should spend some time offline. Make a point to allow unplugged, unstructured playtime each day. This type of play helps kids develop creativity.

For teens:

Allowing adolescents on social media can help them develop and form their identities. Teach your teen about appropriate online behavior. For instance, explain that sending suggestive messages or photos puts them at risk.

Create profiles yourself, or ask teens to show you what they do online. That way, you will know what is happening in their virtual world. Take action if you see signs of cyberbullying.

Upgrade your approach to kids’ screen time

At all ages:

Setting smart limits on media usage can prevent harms, from obesity to troubled sleep to problems at school and home.

One way to do it: Create a family media use plan. Dr. Lee says, “Together, draft a document that lays down basic rules.”


  • No screens in bedrooms.
  • Unplugged family mealtimes.
  • A “media curfew” before bedtime. Pick a time to plug all devices into a central charging station – and leave them there for the night.
  • Sticking to age-appropriate content, as determined by movie, game and TV ratings.

“Model proper media use yourself,” says Dr. Lee. “For instance, put your phone away during family dinners. And take advantage of digital tools to teach the same lessons and values you’ve always imparted to your kids. Skip violent TV programs in favor of those that foster empathy, kindness and tolerance.”

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