We really can’t say it enough: kids are spending too much time on devices. And so, ahem, are parents. It seems like the tech-obsession is everywhere around us and that little ones are learning how to push and swipe before they can do anything else. With the knowledge that some screen time is inevitable for most families these days, the American Academy of Pediatrics convened recently to outline how to best keep your kiddo from becoming a tech zombie and how to help make screen time a positive and beneficial experience.

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The AAP recognizes that almost 75% of teenagers have smart phones (with 24% admitting to using their phone “constantly“) and that kids begin using digital media from an increasingly early age. Therefore, they focused on creating realistic boundaries and expectations with young people regarding media use. Some of the key points are what we would expect, and include limiting screen time for kids to two hours or less a day for children older than two, as well as refraining from or discouraging screen time for kids under two (which admittedly can be a challenge if there are older children in the household).

Among the other details and recommendations from the AAP:

  • Model good media use as the parent. If you can’t pull yourself away from your devices, your kids won’t be able to either. Interestingly, the AAP also recommends engaging in video games with your kids as a way to facilitate social interactions and discuss healthy media usage.
  • Approach decisions about technology the same way you would any other parenting decision. Set limits and enforce them. Some kids might need a “push” to shut down the device and get outside or play with friends. As the parent, you get to be that “push.”
  • Not all apps and programs are created equal. Take the time to check the content and level of interaction that each app requires. A resource like Common Sense Media can help sum up and review popular apps, shows, and movies. The AAP also reasons that the quality of the program’s content is more important than how much time is spent on it; certain interactive educational apps should take priority over passive ones with less educational value.
  • Create tech-free zones. The dinner table, family outings, and bedrooms are good examples of places and situations that should be kept tech-free to optimize time together and to establish eating and sleeping priorities.
  • Understand that screen time is a moving target that parents need to oversee continuously and modify according to age. For younger tots, the AAP recommends co-viewing any programs, making sure media usage never becomes a substitute for the beneficial, two-way communication that leads to language development, and prioritizing unplugged playtime for tiny tots.
  • The AAP acknowledges that “online relationships are integral to adolescent development” and encourages parents to discuss appropriate use and to monitor teens for harmful behaviors that they may be engaging in online.

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