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How Much "Screen Time" is Too Much?

The AAP is working to catch up with a fast-paced digital age by retooling its long-standing guidelines on media use.

Since 2011, the Academy has discouraged screen time for children under age 2 and recommended limiting screen time to two hours a day for children over age 2. But innovation of the iPad and the proliferation of apps for younger children has muddied the waters.

“In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete,” says Dr. Ari Brown, lead author of this month’s AAP article on media use and chair of the AAP committee that’s been investigating the topic. “Children who are ‘growing up digital’ should learn healthy concepts of digital citizenship.”

Face Time Better Than Screen Time

While the AAP has yet to unveil its new recommendations, some pediatricians, such as Dr. Gayle Smith, of Richmond, VA suggest they involve parents using common sense when it comes to the what’s and how much’s of screen time.

“As a pediatrician, I am in a unique position to answer questions like, ‘Does the AAP really mean I can’t even have Oprah on TV in the background if my toddler’s in the room? How much screen time is OK?’ Simply being more mindful of screens in one’s life is a good place to start if you really want the answer to that last question,” suggests Dr Smith.

Today, more than 30 percent of U.S. children are still in diapers when they first pick up a mobile device, according to San Francisco’s Common Sense Media. Also, some 75 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center.

Dr. Joseph Hagan, a Vermont pediatrician and co-author of the AAP’s Bright Futures guidelines, recommends “face-time” between kids and parents is the most important type of quality time.

The AAP has updated a number of its guidelines in recent years, including policy recommendations on measles immunizations, teen pregnancy, obesity prevention and head lice. Depending on the guideline, recommended changes usually happen in the wake of new products or services, the prevalence of a certain condition, or, in the case of a new car seat policy in 2011, new research findings.

The AAP convened a symposium earlier this year with top researchers and experts in the field of media use and children. The goal was to evaluate available data, identify research gaps, and decide how to provide advice to parents based on the evidence.

The AAP wants to unveil the updated media use recommendations in time for its annual Conference & Exhibition in 2016.