The American Academy of Pediatrics has done away with its longstanding recommendation to shield children under 2 years of age from televisions, computers, tablets or mobile devices.
In a policy statement published Friday, the influential group shifted its screen time guidelines, saying specific educational programming – such as offerings from Sesame Workshop and PBS – can be introduced to children ages 18 months to 24 months, but that parents should watch or use the media with their children to help them learn.
"Avoid solo media use in this age group," the group said.
The academy also recommended children under 18 months do not spend time in front of screens, yet provided one exception: video chatting.
"New evidence shows that infants and toddlers regularly engage in video chatting, but the same principles regarding need for parental support would apply in order for infants and toddlers to understand what they are seeing," the group said.
The "no screens under 2" recommendation was first set in 1999, and the academy has periodically updated its guidance to align with changing technology.
As children reach ages 2 to 5 years, the recommendations are similar to when they are toddlers and encourage limiting screen time to one hour or less of high-quality programming. As children get older and become teens, the academy recommends parents set consistent limits on how much time their children can spend in front of a TV and other media devices, and that they also limit what kinds of things kids can watch or interact with.
Because the recommendations do not take a one-size-fits all approach, the group released a free online tool families can use to help them set some of these goals.
Parents also are encouraged to put down their smartphones when interacting with their children, and to help their kids get enough sleep and exercise.
"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," Dr. Jenny Radesky, a lead author of the policy statement for infants, toddlers and preschool children, said in a news release. "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."
The academy additionally encouraged designating times, like during dinner, when media devices should not be present, and recommended against placing TVs, computers or smartphones in children's bedrooms. It also said screen time should be avoided one hour before bedtime.
Studies have shown that too much screen time can negatively affect sleep, contribute to obesity and depression, and have a negative impact on child development.
Further, as new technologies have become available, children have been confronted with sexting and new types of bullying, and the academy recommends parents regularly have conversations about these issues with their children.
The group also highlighted media's benefits, as it can allow students to collaborate on projects, provide support networks to people struggling with mental or physical ailments, and bring families together who are separated by distance.