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A quick look at the new child screen-time rules

Where America goes, Australia often follows. This has certainly been the case with guidelines for child screen time. So, Australia, take heed: the American standards, provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), have just been revised for the first time since 1999.

To the probable delight of exhausted parents and carers, the AAP has proposed a shift in focus to quality, not quantity, of screen time, via three crucial statements. If you have time (and are a little nerdy), reading them is highly recommended:

Media and Young Minds

Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents

Children and Adolescents and Digital Media

It’s a total of about 30 pages of reading. But, given how these affect our parenting and caregiving styles, there are few more important papers you could read.

AAP recommendations include limiting screen time to one hour a day for children 2 to 5 years old. For children 6 and older, be consistent with the amount of time they can look at the screen and don’t let it interfere with sleep, physical activity and other actions essential to good health.

In case you don’t have time to read the statements, here are the highlights – eight facts you should know:

  1. The average age at which children begin to interact with media in 1970 was 4 years; today, 4 months.
  2. You have to teach your toddler to talk, a device can’t. Limit solo screen time until 2 years of age.
  3. For a child under 18 months of age, allow video chat only; at 18–24 months, choose high-quality apps and use them with the child. Re-teach what they are learning if you want them to experience any benefit.
  4. Children must learn to soothe themselves without a screen. Don’t hand the phone over at the first sign of trouble.
  5. Screen-free zones are critical: during meal times; in bedrooms; and during play time (yes, parent or carer, that means your phone, too).
  6. Kids aren’t the only ones struggling with these issues. Distracted parenting is a real problem as well, across all child ages.
  7. If you want to succeed, you must have a plan. Try out this free tool from the American Academy of Pediatrics: healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan
  8. Just because an app or show is listed as educational, doesn’t mean that it is. Do your own research and watch or play it with the child first.

Dr Justin Smith is a pediatrician and the medical adviser for digital health at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth, Texas, US. Read more from Smith here.


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  1. Hello. Our centre recently made posters declaring our kindergarten playroom a mobile free zone. We felt this necessary as often parents who volunteered to be on duty would have a mobile in their hand and were oblivious of their child or any other child in the room. Hardly quality time with the children. Of course if they have to take a call they can leave the room to do so, demonstrating respectful phone etiquette. So far it has been working.

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