For as long as most of can remember, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), among others, have held strict guidelines about kids and screen time: Little or no screen-based activities for children under two, and only one to two hours of television for older children.
But to reflect the new realities of digital media and the many forms it takes, the AAP recently revised its guidelines to relax its hard-and-fast rules and acknowledge that time on a device might now be as important as how they are using that device.
For instance, an article in the Wall Street Journal points out that sitting down to read a book with your child on an e-reader isn’t all that different than reading a hard copy. You’re still having a high-quality, interactive experience. That’s a huge improvement over parking your toddler in front of a cartoon and calling it educational.
In the right context—such as using video chat to stay in touch with an out-of-town relative—digital media can be an adequate or even equal alternative to activities we normally consider to be developmentally healthy.
Small Children Shouldn’t Be Left Alone With Technology
Children are naturally curious about what your device can do, so one danger is that you sit them down for a video chat with your sister, walk away and find they’ve navigated away from the video chat into dangerous territory.
Dangerous territory doesn’t have to mean a pornographic website. For a child old enough to read, just opening your email could raise questions about a seemingly tense exchange between you and your spouse, or a note from his or her teacher not intended for their eyes. We sometimes forget how much information is available on our devices. So remember that smartphones, computers and tablets are tools, not toys, and require supervision.
As kids get older, you’ll give them more freedom to explore, and it will likely become impossible to keep them from using the Internet outside of your presence. But for now, take advantage of the control you do have to make sure that Internet access is never unsupervised.
Not Recommended as a Pacifier
So often, we see a child grow bored, irritable or on the verge of a tantrum, only to watch a parent hand over their smartphone to calm the child. You might have even done this yourself—after all, it usually works, doesn’t it? But I don’t recommend it.
While no one wants to deal with an angry, screaming toddler—especially in public—these can be teachable moments both for you and your child. Practice taking deep breaths and talking with your child about why he’s upset and how he can express his emotions more constructively.
Be A Good Digital Role Model
“Limit your own media use,” the AAP recommends in its newsletter, AAP News, adding that “attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.” Kids naturally mimic the behaviour of the adults around them, and spending all your time glued to a tablet or smart phone is no different. If you’re repeatedly checking email during dinner, kids will pick up on that, so make sure that if the rule is “no phones at dinner,” it applies to adults at the table, too. Even at other times—including when you’re working—make a point of modelling healthy behaviour by taking breaks from the computer to go outside, stretch your legs or just have face-to-face conversations with people.
No doubt you have even more concerns and questions about older children and the Internet, from cyber bullying to privacy and safety. Those are topics for another day, but remember that if you lay the groundwork by setting healthy boundaries early on, continuing the dialogue will be easier as they get older.
Shapiro, J. The American Academy Of Pediatrics Just Changed Their Guidelines On Kids And Screen Time. (2015, Sept.). Forbes. Retrieved from
Reddy, S. Pediatricians Rethink Screen Time Policy for Children. (2015, Oct.). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from (http://www.wsj.com/articles/pediatricians-rethink-screen-time-policy-for-children-1444671636)