Media and Children – Part 1 – American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for ages 0-5 years

Child with phone

Child with phone

One of the biggest parenting challenges in today’s day and age is regulating use of media by kids. Parents experience often contradictory emotions – pride at ‘how well’ their young digital natives can navigate technology to guilt around ‘how much’ is too much and can lead to health repercussions associated with too much screen time.

At Candidly, we are kick-starting the track around media and children, where we will be speaking with experts in technology, early learning, psychology, healthcare and parenting to create a meaningful space for ideas, opinions and advice around this space.

We are starting today by looking at guidelines for use of media issued by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This is a 2-part series basis the recommendations that AAP released eight months ago.

One thing that is most striking about AAP’s new recommendations is that the start point for them is not IF children should be using media (unless younger than 18 months). The ubiquitous media environment where families are surrounded by screens and media everywhere, the choice to escape media completely no longer looks like much of a choice. Their starting point is given that children use media, what role can parents play in –

  1. Prescribing time limits to ensure children’s health and developmental imperatives (sleep, socialising, physical play) don’t get compromised
  2. Setting limit on physical spaces or family opportunities (dinner time, sleep time) where no devices are allowed (for kids or parents!)
  3. Choosing the kind of content that they view or engage. High quality content such as Sesame Street can help kids develop empathy and positive learning. Poor content masquerading as ‘educational’, violent content or fast-paced content should be avoided
  4. Participating with their children to make screen time a more interactive and social experience

AAP’s recommendations for Kids 0-5 years

  1. Digital media use should be avoided for kids younger than 18 months. Infants and toddlers at this age need to develop their cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills and for these outcomes they need to spend most of their time in “hands-on exploration and social interaction” with real people.  Starting 15 months, kids can understand the media content when their parents are co-watching and ‘reteaching’ them this content. But they don’t have the “symbolic, memory and attentional” skills to be able to learn from media and transfer their knowledge to the actual world.
  2. Interestingly, AAP excludes video-chatting from screen-time and states evidence that at 24 months of age, children can actually learn words from live video-chatting with a responsive adult. Hence within their digital experience, video-chatting can help facilitate social connection with appropriate parental support
  3. Parents shouldn’t feel pressured to introduce technology early. Given the interfaces are extremely intuitive, children can easily understand once they start using them
  4. For children between 2 to 5 years of age, screen use should be limited to hour per day of high-quality content, co-viewed by parents with their children to help them understand what they see on screen and apply what they learn to the world around them
  5. Media should be avoided as the only way to calm a child. This could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotional regulation
  6. No screens should be used one hour before bedtime and devices should be removed from the bedroom. Research links higher media exposure in evening hours with shorter sleep-time even among infants
  7. Parents should play a role in monitoring children’s media content and apps that they download or use. They should test apps and content before the child uses them, play together and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app

There are two other points that emerge from their recommendations which I think are challenges that parents need to figure –

  1. While high-quality content such as the Sesame Street “can improve cognitive, literacy and social outcomes for children 3 to 5 years of age”, the point is that a large chunk of children’s content by AAP’s own admission does not meet these exacting standards. As they point out, most of these apps are not designed for a “dual audience (both parent and child). In my own experience, YouTube is world’s biggest video platform and their app for children – YouTube Kids does not provide enough parental control to be able to tailor the content feed for the children. What may be enticing for the child with bright colours and rapid pace may not always be the best quality content. AAP’s recommendations work hard to defend use of media, they ask parents to think of it as a tool beyond being a nanny or a source of entertainment, to tap its developmental benefits by using it as a means of education. But even within the ambit of media for education, they make the most telling remark:

It is important to emphasize to parents that the higher-order thinking skills and executive functions essential for school success, such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through unstructured and social (not digital) play, as well as responsive parent–child interactions.

  1. Parents own use of media whether while watching television or their heavy use of mobile devices impacts the quality of parent-child interaction and child play and as we often see in our lives becomes a cause of conflict. And the part which would be most challenging for parents hence is –

Because parent media use is a strong predictor of child media habits, reducing parental media use and enhancing parent–child interactions may be an important area of behavior change.”

We will be back soon with part 2 of this series that will cover AAP’s recommendations for children ages 5-18.

Do share what you think of these recommendations and your own thoughts and experiences of media use by children.

Infographic - 0-5 yrs

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