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Minding Children's Media Use: What They're Watching Includes You

Corinn Cross, MD, FAAP
May 3, 2017

 

It is a rare occurrence when, on a Saturday morning, there are no sporting events or birthday parties rushing us out of the house.  Like most parents, sometimes I dream of the days before kids when weekends meant sleeping in and lazily waking up when I was actually well rested. Recently, I found myself strangely allowed to sleep until almost 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I awoke and wondered where my 4-, 6- and 8-year-old early risers had gone?

It was so quiet as I wandered down the hall that I started to list the ways they could all be hurt and not able to get to me. I opened my 8-year old’s door and, there, huddled in bed were my three kids watching an iPad. (Of course, we follow the American Academy of Pediatrics media use recommendations and do not charge devices in our children’s bedrooms. We charge our devices in the kitchen. Note to self: it may be time to change that location to the master bedroom -- another recommended location per the guidelines -- so that I can monitor early morning use a little better.)

More concerning than the fact that they had gone downstairs and helped themselves to the iPad, though, was that they were watching a movie that we had not previously owned.

In the mid-1980’s, the vaccine for HIB was released and thirty years later we no longer see this disease. Because of the effectiveness of this vaccine my younger partners only know of HIB meningitis through textbooks (and some of my anecdotes).

This is the recurring story of vaccine preventable diseases.

- See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/We-Can%27t-Let-Our-Guard-Down-Against-Vaccine-Preventable-Diseases.aspx#sthash.196pj2e8.dpuf

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Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Minding-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx#sthash.62XYPg9d.dpuf
Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Minding-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx#sthash.62XYPg9d.dpuf
Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Minding-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx#sthash.62XYPg9d.dpuf
Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians."

“Where did you get that movie?” I asked my 8-year-old.

“Netflix.”

“You know how to get movies on Netflix?”

“It’s not that hard, mom,” she said. “I watch you do it.”

As my internal monologue lists the reasons why I will not be winning any parent of the year awards, the conversation with my daughter then took a turn that actually made me quite proud.

“Mom, before you freak out, I looked the movie up on Common Sense Media and it said 6 and up,” she said. “But then I clicked on reviews, and that said, ‘parents say 5 and up’ so I figured that was close enough to 4.”

“Wow, you used Common Sense Media?” was all I could say.

“Yeah it’s on the iPad,” she said. “You use it every time we get a movie, so I figured as long as I checked it would be ok.”

Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. Teaching children about ratings, and that there are certain things online that are not always appropriate for their age, is also an important lesson. But I think the most important lesson that day was that kids are always watching. And, whether we want to be or not, parents are always teaching our kids through our actions. Modeling the behavior, we hope them to one day have is the best way to teach them this behavior.


"Ultimately, for parents, the most essential take-home message about smart media use is that it's important for families to carve out screen-free time together.​"

As pediatricians, during our well child visits, we talk about all sorts of issues and how they affect our patients' health. Screen use is ubiquitous, and many parents don't know how to even begin to address it with their kids. In a busy practice, it is hard to find the time to add one more thing to our preventative guidance spiel, but the AAP has made it a little easier to add screen use in just a few seconds.

Referring patients to www.Healthychildren.org/mediauseplan and advising your families to make a Family Media Use Plan is a quick and easy way to get a lot of advice and guidance into their hands. Parents will learn about media use and guidelines as the toolkit walks them through the process. For the busy pediatrician, they can feel confident they are steering their families to an AAP-created tool. Pediatricians can then simply follow up at the next visit to see how things are going and if they have any questions.

For school-age children and teens, the AAP media recommendations stress:

  • Parental involvement: Co-viewing, co-playing and co-engaging is the best way to guide children's media use.
  • Balance: Ensure there are device-free times, device-free meals, 1 hour of exercise a day and sufficient sleep for the child's age.
  • Sleep: Screens can disrupt sleep, so turn off 1 hour before bed, dim screens, decrease high-excitement media use in the evening, and charge all devices outside children's and teens' bedrooms.
  • Being an educated consumer: Not all educational apps are educational, and not all cartoons are age appropriate. Use trusted review sites such as Common Sense Media to assess movies, TV shows, games, and apps.
  • Make a Plan: The AAP's interactive Family Media Use Plan tool is available at  healthychildren.org/mediauseplan

For children age 5 and younger, the AAP recommends

  • In general, screens displace the essential work of the child to talk, play and explore the real world, so use sparingly.
  • Video chatting is okay at any age.
  • For children 18-months old and under, limit screen use to video chatting.
  • Between 18 and 24 months of age, limited amounts of high-quality device use co-viewed with parents and re-taught in the real world can be educational, but excess screen use displaces much needed talk and play time.
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years can have 1 hour of high-quality device use, preferably co-viewed with an adult.
  • Make a Family Media Use Plan.

Ultimately, for parents, the most essential take-home message about smart media use is that it's important for families to carve out screen-free time together.  Screen-Free Week is a great time to make an extra effort to unplug from media and connect as a family. Many towns, libraries, museums and community groups across the United States are offering events and activities ranging from scavenger hunts to nature hikes to help families break away from technology to explore the joy that comes from hands-on interaction with the real world.

It may be a rare occurrence when parents of young children get to sleep in.  But, with a plan in place, seeing your kids mindfully and safely using media – and stepping away from it as a family – should not be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics. ​​​


​​​Ab​out the ​​Author

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American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Corinn Cross, MD FAAP, an executive board member of the academy’s Council on Communications and Media, is a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.