By Genevra Pittman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Families should make a "media use plan" and set clear rules about TV, cell phones and other devices, pediatricians said today.
That includes limiting kids' screen time to one or two hours per day. Parents should also keep children's rooms free of TV and Internet access, according to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media.
"We're not media-bashers," Dr. Marjorie Hogan, one of the statement's lead authors, said. "We love media." The question, she said, is how to use it for good.
Hogan, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said media can influence kids' lives in many positive ways. Some TV shows like Sesame Street have been shown to help preschoolers learn or to promote empathy, for example.
"For teens, connectivity, being connected to your peers, having a chance to create your persona, can be a really positive thing," she told Reuters Health.
And children who have to take long medical absences from school can use online education programs to keep up, the Council writes in Pediatrics.
But too much TV and other media use have been tied to obesity, sleep and school problems and aggression.
Currently, the average child spends about eight hours in front of screens each day, according to the policy statement. That makes screen time the leading activity for young people after sleep.
"Over the past ten years … the amount of media that kids hang out with and spend time with on a given day has increased," said Amanda Lenhart.
She directs research on teens, children and families for the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and wasn't involved in the new recommendations.
"We certainly see that more kids have access to mobile phones," Lenhart told Reuters Health. "Certainly your average child now has more computing power in their pocket than they did a decade ago."
But TV is still the "predominant form of media" used by kids and teenagers, Hogan said. "More kids watch more hours of TV than other forms of media," she said.
The new statement was presented Monday at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.
Lenhart said she was happy to see the Council "trying to walk a middle ground" by helping parents and schools see the ways media can be both helpful and harmful.
"I was really pleased to see at least an attempt to balance the positive with the negative," said Lenhart. Many organizations just focus on the ways TV and other forms of media are bad for kids, she said.
Along with limiting screen time and keeping Internet-connected devices out of kids' rooms, parents should monitor what their children are accessing online. They should also watch TV shows and movies with them, according to the recommendations.
Children under two years old should not be watching TV or other screens, the Council wrote.
At that age, "there's just no benefit," Hogan said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/cxXOG Pediatrics, online October 28, 2013.