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About the AAP’s media guidelines for parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidance on screen time for families by de-emphasizing the term “screen time.” The AAP’s focus is now more on the “how” of media use than the “how much.”

Kids online at library

Photo: Harris County Public Library

“The key is mindful use of media within a family,” the AAP’s press release quoted Megan Moreno, MD, lead author of the Academy’s policy statement for school-aged children and teens.

That’s a big step forward, “a much better fit with the present circumstances of family lives” than its earlier guidance on kids’ media use, writes psychologist Sonia Livingstone, one of the world’s most recognized researchers on youth and digital media, “more media at home, used for multiple and often valuable purposes, as part of diverse family cultures; certainly no longer something parents can simply police or ban.”

The AAP continues to face quite a dilemma, Dr. Livingstone writes, because “parents want guidance now,” but “there isn’t a robust body of research on the effects of digital media on children.” In her post, she spells out what we do know.

So here are my top takeaways from this up-to-the-minute blend of pediatric, psychological and media expertise:

  • Good for the time being: These guidelines are better than before – more aligned with the research we do have – but more is needed. So also take a look at the recommendations of Livingstone and her digital parenting co-researcher Alicia Blum-Ross at the bottom of the former’s blog post about the AAP’s guidelines. [Here‘s Blum-Ross’s blog post on the subject too.]
  • Strike a new kind of balance. Consider balancing advice from experts outside the family with what you can learn from your kids’ own media experiences – open-minded and –hearted interaction with them on how and why they use various media tools and services. And then there’s the very important balance of internal and external media safeguards I wrote about in 2013.

  • Mentoring not controlling. This is confirming: Livingstone cites the AAP as advising that, “rather than policing, controlling or monitoring children’s media use, parents should think of themselves as their child’s ‘media mentor’.”
  • kidsTVNot about screen time. Livingstone suggests that parents focus less on counting screen hours or whether there’s a screen in their child’s room – or even whether they’re a good enough parent – and more on enjoying time with their children, “whether or not there’s a screen involved.”
  • We’re too hard on ourselves. “In our research [in-depth interviews with 70+ families so far], we have been struck by how self-critical parents are of their own parenting practices, often defining ‘good parenting’ as ‘media-free parenting’ – which is tough in a media-saturated world where learning, work and social connections are increasingly mediated…. They tend to read time in front of a screen as ‘bad’ because it’s ‘screen time’ even when children are chatting, playing, or just relaxing after a busy day.”
  • What parents need/deserve. This has all been about our children. But what about us? “What parents really need is encouragement in these uncertain and pressured times … so [we] can be free to share in and enjoy lively, confident and pleasurable time with [our] children, whether or not there’s a screen involved,” Livingstone writes.

That’s the foundation of children’s healthy development where media’s concerned. Because of the media fire hose we all face daily and because media use is so individual and dynamic even within a single family, we need to check in with our children often – as open-mindedly and -heartedly as possible, right? – to see how they’re using media and what is and isn’t interesting, working well, etc. Near the bottom of Livingstone’s blog post are 5 questions beginning with “Does my child…” that can guide conversations with (or just observations of) our kids about media.

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