If your house is anything like mine, the iPad is a constant battleground.
Easy to use for even the smallest fingers, the devices are like catnip for toddlers, who after getting ahold of them even a few times, frequently melt down into hysterics when denied screen time. Well, that's what my two-year-old daughter does at least.
Of course I hate the whining, but should I give in and let her watch yet another YouTube video to keep the peace? Is the gadget scrambling her precious little brain?
Screen time recommendations vs. screen time reality
There's plenty of reason to be concerned. Pediatricians have long cautioned that kids under two should spend no time in front of screen at all, while research shows that among older kids lots of screen time is correlated with worse school performance. Too much time spent with devices is bad for kids' sleep and crowds out essential activities like physical exercise and social play.
But at the same time, here in the real world keeping kids away from gadgets feels like a pipe dream. Parents are, as usual, left feeling guilty and confused by the conflict between what's recommended and what feels possible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently aimed to help by updating their guidelines. You may have already heard the basics: now it's no screen time until 18 months rather than two years, and one (supervised) hour daily rather than two from ages two to five.
Which is good to know but still pretty hard to put into practice. What exactly counts as screen time? What kind of content should fill up my kid's allotted hour? And why is too much screen time so worrying? Thankfully, pediatrician Jenny Radesky, who was the lead author of the Academy's new policy statement, recently took to Fast Company to expand on the new guidelines, offering more concrete advice for families. Here are the basic principles she offers:
1. Video chatting is always OK.
Should you feel guilty holding your six-month-old up to the screen so her grandparents can see her on Skype? No! Using video chatting apps is always OK, clarifies Radesky.
2. Let your kids be digital makers.
You also shouldn't feel guilty if your kids are using digital tools to be creative. In fact, this sort of activity doesn't even count as "screen time" as the pediatricians mean it. "Creating and learning together--letting the child take photos and record videos or songs, as well as looking up craft ideas," is a great use of your household gadgets, according to Radesky. So don't sweat those uses either.
3. Choose apps and media wisely.
When it comes to more passive entertainment, though, you need to be more discerning. Parents, not kids, should choose what media young people consume. "We recommend trusted content producers such as Sesame Workshop and PBS Kids, who design apps with the child's and parent's needs in mind," writes Radesky.
"We ask parents to test apps and watch videos with their children to determine if they are good fits for their child's temperament," she adds.
4. Watch with your kids.
Your work isn't done once you've screened the content your child gets to see. Rather than using screens as digital babysitters while they get on with other chores, parents should watch along with their little ones if they want their kids to get any educational benefit out of what they're viewing. Otherwise, screen time is the developmental equivalent of empty calories -- it fills up time, but offers little to feed the brain.
5. Maintain device-free zones.
While some types of digital engagement are actually healthy for your child, boundaries are still important. That includes fencing off device-free spaces and times for your family. In fact, Radesky points out, such spaces are important for the mental health of adults as well as kids.
"We recommend having unplugged spaces and times of day so that both parent and child can play, be bored, or talk without distraction or feeling a need to multitask," she says.
Check out the complete post for much more detailed advice.