New Pediatric Screen Times Limits Are Woefully Unrealistic

american academy of pediatrics logoThe American Academy of Pediatrics has boldly come out with new guidelines about children and screen time, a document called the Media and Children Communication Toolkit, and it’s getting a lot of press. But the new guidelines sound like they’re not written by parents at all, and don’t reflect two simple realities: less screen time is always better for children, whether they’re 18mo or 12yo, and that it’s increasingly difficult to accomplish that in modern times.

But let’s set the stage. The previous recommendations from the AAP were that children over age 2 shouldn’t be watching more than two hours of television each day. Reality: The average 2-5 year old watches 4.5 hour of television each day and more than 70 percent of children ages 8 to 18 have TVs in their bedrooms.

Today, however, the AAP warns that “defining screen time is difficult” and now defines it as “time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes”, going on to highlight that time spent online doing homework doesn’t count as screen time.

Think about that for a minute, though. Why not just define all “looking at a screen” as screen time, whether it’s a smartphone, computer or television? When I talk with my kids — and limit their use of devices — I certainly consider all time spent on devices as screen time, without differentiating between “good” and “bad” time spent. If they’ve just spent an hour on a homework assignment, it’s time for a break from screens, not time for an hour of online entertainment.

What’s more amazing is just how out of touch the estimated 10,000 pediatric doctors are about how children and families in the modern era use devices anyway. Look around when you’re at a restaurant or the mall: children are on devices constantly and they certainly don’t differentiate between texting their BFF about homework or snapchatting them about the latest classroom gossip. The idea that a child doing homework on the computer is exclusively dedicating their attention to that homework and not checking sports scores, streaming their favorite TV show, peeking at the latest cat videos on YouTube or >>bzzzt<< checking their phone while they’re working is naive at best.

It’s also the language of the guidelines that bugs me too, as reported in CNN Health. For example, “For kids ages 6 and older, parents can determine the restrictions for time spent…” Me? I’d rewrite that as “parents should determine…”. I’d say that’s a pretty big difference in intention.

The guideline also offers this recognition that parenting shouldn’t be martyrdom “For parents with infants, cutting off technology completely can be challenging” but then the guidelines recommend that parents go cold turkey with all tech, noting that a nursing mother shouldn’t be also watching TV or checking her cellphone at the same time she’s nursing her baby because it can cause behavioral issues with that child in the future.

child glued to tv screenAnd then, really cementing that rich pediatricians have no idea about how children are raised in the modern era at all, they say “The TV should not be a babysitter, it’s much better to talk to a child or read from a book.” Independnt of the rest of the country, how many successful pediatricians with full practices are present for their own young ‘uns every afternoon, doing just that?

I understand the benefit of aspirational guidelines for parenting. Heck, I have plenty of them myself. But the American Academy of Pediatrics would do better to have guidelines that reflect modern life, the dearth of childcare options in most households, the reality of two working parents and the ubiquitousness of technology in our world, at home, school and everywhere else. Guidelines that help parents figure out how to balance best practices and recommendations with their day-to-day reality.

Otherwise it’s just so much noise to add to the barrage of parental guilt that we face every day as we learn what we feed our children, how we dress them, talk to them, share our values with them and set boundaries and discipline them are all going to result in them being broken later in life.

Meanwhile, what about screen time limitations for adults too? Oh, I guess that’d get in the way of us all checking Facebook non-stop. 🙂

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