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Why context is important for children’s screen time

Screen time guidelines should have relevance to the increasingly digital lives of young children and their families.
Family of 5 sitting on lounge smiling and watching television

Screen time guidelines should have relevance to the increasingly digital lives of young children and their families. In an effort to ensure screen time guidelines maintained their relevance, the American Academy of Pediatrics convened the Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium in May 2015.

Several key messages emerged and were published in the American Academy of Pediatrics News article – “Beyond turn it off”: How to advise families on media use.

As the name suggests, the guidance focussed less on the time children spend using electronic media, and more on the screen time content and context. A fee is required to access the full article, but we have summarised the key messages here.

The key messages

  • Content matters: The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritise how your child spends his/her time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Parenting has not changed: The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  • Co-engagement counts: Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.

Generally, screen time and sedentary behaviour guidelines for children recommend that:

  • Screen time should be discouraged for children under 2 years.
  • For children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be limited to less than 1 hour per day.

In addition to the amount of time young children spend engaging with electronic media, it is also important to consider the content that children engage with (e.g., potentially educational vs. not educational) and the context within which they engage with media (e.g., with parents or adult carers and involving social interaction, discussion, questioning and thinking vs. alone).

  • Young children should not be sedentary, restrained, or kept inactive for more than 1 hour at a time, with the exception of sleeping.
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