Pediatricians relax guidelines on screen time for kids to give more flexibility

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Father and toddler son on sofa with personal computers

Guidelines for pediatricians have loosened a limit on screen time for kids under two years old. Photo via Getty Images

The American Academy of Pediatrics is out with new recommendations to help kids maintain a healthy diet — of tablets and smartphones.

Previous guidelines focused on stricter limits: No screen time for kids under 2, and just two hours a day for older kids. But with the media landscape shifting, the physician group decided flexibility was in order.

The organization now recommends that parents keep infants and toddlers away from screens until they hit 18 months. The exception: video chatting, which is now seen as a healthy form of communication.

For kids ages 2 to 5, the organization recommends limiting consumption to an hour per day of high-quality programming. The key: Parents watching alongside their kids.

“We encourage parents to participate in the media,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and an author of the new guidelines. Sitting down to watch TV or play an interactive game together, she said, makes media consumption into more of a family activity.

The new guidelines urge parents not to use media time as a way of soothing upset children, which could hurt their coping skills in the long run.

Once children hit school age, the recommendations loosen, leaving room for parents to make their own judgment calls. The AAP suggests that parents set boundaries on screen time and designate some media-free spaces, like the dinner table and bedrooms. But if they want their kids to follow the rules, parents have to set the example.

“When we say something to them but don’t follow that ourselves, they pick up on that really quickly,” said Dr. Shannon Scott-Vernaglia, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Experts recommend placing consistent limits on how often children can use media, and in what format. Having that conversation early is key, experts said, as backpedaling can be tricky with kids.

“Establish early that there are limits,” Scott-Vernaglia said. “Then you can adjust them as children get older and as those limits may change.”

She said she often talks with parents who think there’s an absolute limit on screen time and worry about letting kids sit in front of TVs or tablets too much. “I try to change that conversation to be — what are you doing with that screen time?” she said.

The group’s new approach reflects a recognition that blanket guidelines don’t work: Recommendations for a 2-year-old shouldn’t look anything like recommendations for a 17-year-old, Moreno said.

“Children and adolescents are personalizing the way they use media, and we really wanted our guidelines to reflect that,” Moreno said. “Media isn’t this bad thing we need to restrict. It can be highly beneficial.”

This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Oct. 21, 2016. Find the original story here.

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