Now the American Academy of Pediatrics, a professional guild association of pediatricians who like to promote fears about Facebook usage and suggest kids’ violence comes from too much TV watching, has updated its guidelines for how children and teens should consume digital media.
But here’s the thing — guess how many teenagers and children they talked to in the creation of these guidelines?
If you guessed “zero,” you would be right. In this day and age where our children and teens know more about living online than most adults, this seems like a gross oversight. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with the guidelines’ problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its journal, Pediatrics, have an agenda. That agenda is not unbiased, and the research that appears in Pediatrics on this topic is generally not stuff I trust. It’s variable in quality, and the researchers often make huge leaps to causation with only correlational data.
But before we continue, I need to ask you a question: how much time do you spend in front of a screen — any kind of screen (your phone, a computer, or the TV) — every day? Now, how much time do you spend only doing only recreational types of things in front of those same screens?
Don’t know? You wouldn’t be alone. Few of us think much about the time we spend in front of a screen, just like we don’t think much about the amount of time we spend behind the wheel of a car, or how many miles we walked in a given day.
Yet, the AAP would have you answer this question for each of your children, every time you see your doc:
How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?
Is there a TV set or an Internet-connected electronic device (computer, iPad, cell phone) in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?
There’s little to no research that demonstrates there’s a qualitative difference between “recreational screen time” and non-recreational screen time. There’s also little to no research that demonstrates that screentime in one’s bedroom is somehow qualitatively different than that same person sitting across the room from you.
And what does your doctor do with this information? Give you AAP-directed advice that bears little resemblance to most parents’ — and their kids’ — reality.
Because in the very same policy statement where the AAP suggests that docs tell their parent patients to limit their child’s “entertainment” screen time to less than 2 hours everyday, it also states:
The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media; older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day.
So the AAP would suggest that, you as a parent — with a straight face — tell your child or teen, “Sorry, you need to cut your screen time use by 75 or 80 percent.” Even while all their friends continue at the same rates.
Not only is this bad scientific advice — since it’s backed by little robust data — it’s also horrible childhood development advice. During a time when children and teens’ most important social and brain development is occurring, AAP would suggest you significantly cut the tools your child or teen uses to promote and nourish that development. Nice.
The “keep the screens out of the bedroom” advice also harkens back to the day when your parents didn’t want you to bring a boy or girl to your room. This naive advice ignores the reality of a child’s or teen’s real life, where they can spend hours over a friend’s, in the library, or in the computer lab, doing whatever they want, whenever they want online. (But hey, at least they won’t be doing it in their own bedroom!)
3 Tips That Work Better
Want reality-based tips for raising your child or teen that respects the fact that they are digital natives (while most who read this are not)? You won’t notice any number-based limits below, because such limits are simply ridiculous, given they are virtually impossible to turn into reliable metrics that could be tracked over time.
1. Talk to your kids & teens.
While this may seem like such obvious advice, it needs to be said because many parents avoid this topic as much as they avoid the “sex talk.” Have a heart-to-heart with your kids or teenagers about the pros and cons of the big online world. Don’t sugar-coat things — bad things can and do happen online — but don’t scare them either. Keep in mind that if they aren’t already the online experts, they will be in a few years — even while living under your roof.
Let them know they may happen upon websites or apps that aren’t appropriate for them. Tell them what they should do in such instances, and ask them to let you know when this happens. Yes, you can and should monitor their online use as children (but probably not as teens; see below) — but tell them ahead of time, and under what kind of circumstances you will be doing the monitoring. Monitor randomly, not constantly; nobody likes the idea of Big Brother (or Big Dad or Big Mom) watching everything they do or say. Talk to your kids immediately when you find something askew.
Should you friend your kids on Facebook or some other social media site? Talk to them before you just assume it’s okay. While as a parent you feel it’s not only your right but also your responsibility to do so, different kids at different ages may feel differently about it. A talk about it beforehand will ensure it doesn’t turn into a bigger issue than it is.
2. Be realistic & respect their privacy.
If you’ve had the talk about the benefits and potential pitfalls of being online when your child is young, then congratulations, you’ve done a good job. As your child grows into a teen, it’s time to respect their privacy more and more. That doesn’t mean bury your head in the sand and ignore what’s going on in your teen’s online world. But it does mean not making unrealistic demands about how much time they spend online, or that they can only be online in your presence.
If you monitored your child’s online use when they were young, shouldn’t they be all set as teens? If that’s the case, remember to give them more leeway and responsibility as they age — just as you would do for anything else in their lives.
3. Listen to the ratings.
Ignore the ratings on video games, TV shows and movies at your own peril. These ratings systems have been designed to limit the potential harm of the content they contain. While imperfect, they are one of the few ways we have to determine whether something is age-appropriate.
Sadly, too many parents ignore these rating systems because their child says, “Well, Danny has this game and his parents let him play it.” While that may be true, what’s good enough for someone else’s kids shouldn’t automatically be “good enough” for your own.
When in doubt, view and vet the content ahead of time. Too many parents abdicate the responsibilities of parenting to others, but this is one simple area you can take charge and make a difference.
Read the AAP’s statement: Managing Media: We Need a Plan