The American Academy of Pediatrics has released its new policy regarding children and media use, and it’s not messing around: It suggests less than two hours of passive screen time daily and no screen time for kids under 2, and urges that all Internet devices — including smartphones — be banned from a young person’s bedroom.
“A lot of parents are clueless about how much media their kids are using and where they are online,” Victor Strasburger, a pediatrician and one of the lead authors of the new policy statement, released Monday, tells Yahoo Shine. “They may know where they are physically, but not electronically. We’re saying they should know where they are in all ways.”
And allowing late-night bedroom texting, tweeting, and Facebook use, he notes, is a surefire way for parents to lose their control. “Cell phones,” he says, “should go night-night in a basket in the kitchen at 10 o’clock at night.”
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The report also noted, however, that "important positive and pro-social effects of media use should also be recognized."
Though the AAP stopped short of suggesting specific time limits for texting and social media, the policy did recommend establishing “reasonable but firm rules” about such distractions.
“I’m surprised their little thumbs don’t fall off, but there’s no data yet on the impact of all this,” Strasburger explains regarding the lack of hour-limit suggestions on texting, Twitter, and Facebook — unlike the multitude of studies that exist regarding the effects of more passive screen time, such as TV watching. But the clear connection between social media and bullying, he notes, is of huge concern.
The AAP based its recommendations on a wide range of recent findings—including evidence that the average 8-to-10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day on a variety of different media, with older children and teenagers spending upwards of 11.
“We do know there’s going to be a displacement effect,” he notes of those chunks of time. “If they are on media 8 hours a day, that’s 8 hours a day they’re not out walking the dog, playing with friends, reading a book.”
The AAP also considered the finding that one-third of teenagers send more than 100 text messages a day, and that two-thirds of children and teens reported they had “no rules” from parents regarding media usage.
But making rules when children are still young—specifically between the ages of 2 and 7, Strasburger notes — is key when it comes to these issues. “The easiest way to deal with this is not to let media habits get ingrained early on. You say, ‘Here’s what we can do, here’s what we can’t do,'” he says. “And I think every household in America should have a firm rule of no media until homework is done.”
Common Sense Media, a non-profit dedicated to healthy media consumption by children, applauded the AAP’s new policy and noted that it was “completely consistent” with its own research — which includes a staggering new set of findings that it coincidentally released on Monday as well.
That report, “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013,” showed a major uptick in new-media use by youngsters — including, in just two years, a five-fold increase in the numbers of children under 8 who now have mobile-device access. “That’s unbelievable,” Common Sense Media founder Jim Steyer tells Yahoo Shine. “The data just blew me away.”
The findings, from a biannual, nationally representative survey of nearly 1,500 parents of children 8 and under, found that television is still the most dominant when it comes to screen time. But it also discovered that the amount of time children in this age group spend on mobile devices has tripled — up to 15 minutes from 5 minutes just two years ago. In addition, the number of children who use mobile devices on a daily basis has more than doubled, from 8 percent to 17 percent.
“The report is a remarkable statement about the fact that the digital age has arrived,” Steyer, author of “Talking Back to Facebook,” notes, adding that the findings can be either scary or hopeful, depending on how the media is used.
“It’s still the same old thing,” he says about how parents can rein in kids and media. “You set clear limits. Period.” Mobile devices, he adds, “can either be positive education tools or virtual babysitters with content that is inappropriate for your children.”
In addition to the AAP's new recommendations for parents — which also suggest that parents monitor websites their kids visit and co-view movies with both children and teens — the new policy has suggestions for pediatricians. Those include “taking a more detailed media history” with kids and teens who are aggressive, overweight, or have trouble in school, as well as asking parents directly about their child’s screen-time habits.
Strasburger says he understands that the AAP will most likely be accused of being out of touch with the realities of media usage. “But many of us are very technologically astute, and we know what we’re talking about,” he says. “And the research bears it out.”