Picture from Pediatricians Say: Max 2 Hours of Screen Time and Keep Electronics Out Of Bedrooms
Parents should remove electronics from children's bedrooms and limit entertainment use of devices to no more than 2 hours per day says the American Academy of Pediatrics in their latest media policy update. Image ©iStock

Pediatricians Say: Max 2 Hours of Screen Time and Keep Electronics Out Of Bedrooms

We live in a society that really doesn’t like someone telling us what we can and can’t do—especially with something as trivial as entertainment. Over a decade ago the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement that gave parents very firm advice that television viewing time should be limited to no more than two hours per day and that children under 2 years of age shouldn’t view any TV.

Now the AAP has taken the next step. In a new policy statement released on October 28, 2013, the organization has recognized that the TV may still hold the greatest number of viewing hours for children, but other portable devices are quickly catching up. That means the two-hour rule has been expanded to include “total entertainment screen time” being limited to less than one to two hours per day.

Yes, there is a loophole in the word “entertainment.” Playing Angry Birds on a tablet certainly is a no-brainer (in more ways than one), but how about one of those thousands of “educational” apps? Well, that’s where wisdom will need to come into play. Reading the recommendations to parents, words like “co-view” and “monitor” are prominent reminders that moms and dads need to be involved in their children’s media habits.

To remind us that the AAP isn’t just looking for a way to grab headlines and take away the one “free” babysitter available to weary parents, they provide some stats to remind us where our kids are currently spending their time. Read these thoughtfully—the numbers are so incredible it truly is difficult to comprehend…

The average 8 to 10 year old is spending close to 8 hours a day with different media. Teens are over 11 hours per day. Put a TV set in a child’s bedroom (something the AAP strongly discourages) and the numbers get even higher. Sadly 71% of children and teens have a bedroom TV and that means a vast majority are exceeding 11 hours per day of media time—that’s about a half day, every day.

Cell phones are in nearly every teen’s pocket. Seventy-five percent of 12 to 17-year-olds have cells, and they are rarely used to call home. Instead text messaging is still the predominant activity with one-third of teens sending over 100 text messages per day. The average number of monthly texts sent by teens in the first 3 months of 2011 was 3,364. (Considering one-third is sending 100 per day, some quick math tells us there is a sizable percentage sending far more than that amount each day.)

Back to the bedroom, in addition to pulling out the TV the AAP advises parents to keep cell phones and other connected devices out of sleeping areas at night. Previous studies have shown they contribute to a variety of issues including lack of sleep, poor grades, obesity and a propensity to seek pornographic content or become engaged in sending sexual text messages and pictures. (The AAP quotes a study that found 20% of adolescents have either sent or received a sexually explicit image by cell phone or Internet.)

Now before you think these kid docs want us to toss all our shiny toys and return to playing Parcheesi and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, take note the new guidelines recognize the positive role media plays in education and other aspects of a child’s development. It’s all about balancing quality programs and software with a reasonable amount of consumption time.

Finally the policy statement has a reminder for the very pediatricians that are charged with advising young patients and their parents. In speaking to doctors, one statement urges, “Examine your own media use habits; pediatricians who watch more TV are less likely to advise families to follow AAP recommendations.”

That means it’s time for kids and docs to turn it off!

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