We’ve all seen it. A toddler – just learning her shapes and colors – logs into a smartphone, taps the app icon that plays her favorite tunes and claps along with joy.
Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
It depends, experts say.
Recognizing the struggle many parents have managing their children’s screen time, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released two new policy statements last year: "Media and Young Minds" involving pre-school ages and "Media Use in School-Age Children and Adolescents" for older children and teens. The AAP urges parents to be their children's "media mentor" and teach them how to use the devices to create, connect and learn.
Palm Beach Juvenile Court Judge James Martz, a former police officer and Assistant State Attorney who serves on the board for Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County, agrees.
"A digital screen is not a litmus test for a child's thoughts," he says. "A parent and child conversation is so much more enlightening as to where a child's head is at."
Since there’s no escaping our digital world, here are nine tips from AAP to help you guide you.
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
- With very young children, stick to unstructured play and human interaction instead of screen time. The opportunity to think creatively, solve problems and develop reasoning and motor skills is more valuable for their rapidly developing brain than passive media intake.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour a day of high-quality programs. Parents should watch media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- The Internet can be a wonderful place for learning – or a place where kids can run into trouble. Keep the computer and other screens in a public part of your home, so you can check on what your kids are doing online and how much time they are spending there.
- Look for media choices that are educational, teach good values such as empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and that model good interpersonal skills for children to emulate.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on media time as well as the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Become familiar with popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. You may want your own profile on the social media sites your children use. By "friending" your kids, you can monitor their online presence.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
Triple P, the Positive Parenting Program funded in Palm Beach County by Children’s Services Council, also helps parents find the right balance with age-appropriate screen time. To learn more about Triple P in Palm Beach County, contact:
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Palm Beach Juvenile Court Judge James Martz, Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County board member
- Common Sense Media