Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Encouraging Guilt-Free Screen Time

I’ve heard plenty of parents express guilt over letting their children watch videos or play games on their phones – “I know I shouldn’t, but it’s just so I can get the dishes done.” It doesn’t help that it seems like recommendations are changing constantly and parents don’t always know where to look for the most up-to-date information. The last two years have been even harder – video chats and schooling have moved online and our children are getting more screen time than ever.

Parenting can be hard enough without additional guilt and screens aren’t going away – so let’s try to help families and caregivers navigate these times in a guilt-free and productive way. 

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CC by 2.0 Image: “student_ipad_school – 127” by flickingerbrad

Understanding the recommendations

I find it helpful to understand what the professionals are saying so I have an answer when parents at my library ask me what I think. There are a lot of recommendations out there and they can change abruptly and differ between organizations, doctors, and even fields of study. Most of these recommendations are based on those provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). As of May 2022, the AAP’s major recommendations are:

  • Develop a Family Media Use Plan (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx)
  • Screen time should be balanced with sleep, family time, and physical exercise
    • No screen time until 18-24 months old
    • Less than an hour for 2-5 year-olds
  • Use technology together and be an example for your children
  • Take breaks to prevent fatigue and eye strain
  • Choose high quality educational content

The World Health organization similarly recommends no screen time for children under 2 and less than an hour for 3-4 year-olds.

Research on the impacts of technology on children will always be ongoing, so these recommendations will probably change –especially as we see Gen X and Gen Alpha grow into adulthood and more long-term studies emerge. Also, they’re just that – they’re recommendations. As Captain Barbosa said, “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Instead of focusing on prescriptive amounts of time children should be using media, I like to talk about developing healthy habits and being an example to their children. 

Important note: neither of these organizations counts video chats with family as part of that prescribed screen time. 

Evaluating media

Okay – we just told our parents we want to make sure our apps are educational and high quality – but how do we know if that’s true? When I review apps, I like to follow the guidelines set out by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

  • Individualize experience
  • Ability to control the sound and music
  • What languages are available?
  • Can children play together?
  • Cost – is there an initial price and does it encourage microtransactions inside the app? (We don’t like microtransactions)
  • Are there levels or does it continually provide a challenge in some way?

The NAEYC (and I) also encourage you to look for any biases that might appear in the app – we want apps that include gender and ethnic diversity just like we would in books. 

That can be a lot to keep track of amongst reviewing all the other materials – so never fear! We have resources for you. If you haven’t already, swing by the Children & Technology Committee’s Digital Media Resources Page. Here you can find more information about how to evaluate apps as well as app advisory; what’s better than someone else reviewing something for you? Additionally, the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award winners can be found on the ALSC Book and Media Awards List. 

Further Reading:

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/cover-kids-screens

https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2020/aap-finding-ways-to-keep-children-occupied-during-these-challenging-times/

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/need-to-revisit-screen-time-2021020921912

https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/selecting-apps-support-children

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