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October 21, 2016

How much time should kids spend on screens?

In a world dominated by smartphone games like Pokemon Go and powerful game consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, parents seeking tips on how much screen time they should let their children have were typically met with outdated recommendations.

Now, in an attempt to keep pace with an increasingly technology-dominated world, officials with the American Academy of Pediatrics released an updated set of guidelines during a conference in San Francisco held earlier this week, according to CNN.com and Los Angeles Times reports.

The new recommendations call for children under the age of 18 months to be permitted no screen time, and all other children under the age of 5 to be allowed a maximum of one hour per day, the media outlets said. Parents of older children are given greater leeway in determining the quantity of screen time that they are allowed, and some media uses do not count against that total.

“Children today are growing up in an era of highly personalized media use experiences,” a panel of AAP-approved experts wrote in guidelines to be published in the journal Pediatrics, according to the Times. “So parents must develop personalized media use plans for their children.”

“Families should proactively think about their children's media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don't have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” study author, Dr. Jenny Radesky, added in a statement. “What's most important is that parents be their child's ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”

More Skyping, less TV viewing is ideal, recommendations say

The researchers recommended no screen time for very young children because they claim that it can be distracting to infants, potentially leading to sleep problems and a parent-child disconnect, according to CNN.com. They also recommend that breastfeeding mothers not use mobile devices or tablets while doing so, since it could cause the child to feel neglected.

For children between the ages of 2 and 5, the AAP recommends “creative, unplugged playtime” while noting that these youngsters can be introduced to screen time, but no more than one hour per day to begin with. They also suggest choosing shows like Sesame Street instead of cartoons on commercial networks, while giving a big thumbs-up to using technology like Skype to hold conversations with relatives, which they say can promote healthy development at this age.

Things get a little more complicated in children over the age of six. The guidelines state that a healthy child’s typical day should consist of school, doing homework, social contact, sleep and at least one hour of physical activity per day. Whatever time is left can be spent in front of a screen, the recommendations said, but such activities should never replace education, physical fitness or much-needed sleep, and parents should be sure to discuss potential technology-related risks like cyber-bullying and sexting with their sons and daughters.

Interestingly enough, the Times pointed out that fewer children are watching two hours or more of television per day than were doing so two decades ago, but it remains unclear is this is due to moms and dads enforcing recommended limits or because of the increasing availability of other types of screens, such as handheld game systems, smartphones and tablet computers.

The latter seems more likely, as the newspaper reported that smartphone use has risen from 52% of children under the age of 8 in 2011 to 75% for that demographic in 2013. This comes despite a lack of evidence that using educational apps on such devices provides any benefits to youngsters under the age of 2. The guidelines are important, the AAP said, due to the health risks associated with excessive screen time, namely obesity. For that reason, they have lowered the recommended amount of television viewing from 2 hours per day to just 90 minutes.

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