Screen Time & Media Use – Figuring it Out

Using research-based guidelines to make recommendations regarding proper use of our expanding technology for children is a fast moving target. Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2011 limiting or restring screen time for children was based on literature that is now 10 years old (before iPads and smart phones.) Exposure to screen-based technology is pervasive, and we now know that the type and format of the technology can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on children at different ages.

In an attempt to stay current in this area, the AAP sponsored a symposium earlier this year to help us best understand how to make proper recommendations and choices for our children and families in this rapidly changing arena. The following take home messages were submitted.

  • Media is simply another sensory exposure to children, and as in any domain, it can have both positive and negative effects depending on the frequency and intensity of its usage.
  • The importance of parents in establishing rules of usage cannot be overlooked. As in all areas of parenting, rules and limits need to be established. These rules and limits may vary from parent to parent but are just as necessary as mealtime or bedtime rules.
  • Role modeling is critical! This technology is now universal and immediately obtainable. It’s fun, informative and can be easily distracting. Kids can quickly develop these behaviors from observation. The importance of face to face interaction and exposure to human language is especially important to social and emotional development in children ages 3 and under.
  • There is a difference between passive and interactional screen time. The 2011 AAP recommendations were based on passive screen time like watching TV. Newer, interactional media offers more engagement and stimulation. Optimal age for this type of media developmentally begins after age 2.
  • Content Matters! The quality of the content is more important than its platform or presentation. It’s not only how much, but how good the content is that makes the difference.
  • Parental evaluation of the content is vital. There are currently 80,000 apps labeled as educational but with little research or oversight validating their content. Consider Common Sense Media or youth librarians at your public library to offer content reviews and recommendations.
  • Participating as a family facilitates social interaction and learning. Play a video game with your child; it allows for shared participation and can give great insight as to how your child manages and understands the experience.
  • Encourage and promote non-screen time. Unstructured, free play time is very important to child development; it promotes physical activity and exercise, creativity, alternate settings for social interaction and multiple types of sensory stimulation. There is an expanding belief that these domains may be more important for overall healthy child development than sedentary, structured (inside) settings that media and screen exposure typically offer.
  • Encourage tech-free areas and times. Mealtimes, “get-ready” times and bedtimes should be tech-free times. It promotes better quality family interactions, reinforces appropriate rules, listening, and establishes healthier long-term eating and sleeping routines.


For many of us who have lived through this technological revolution, it can be both a little overwhelming and intimidating. There is a perception if kids are not exposed to technology devices early and often, that they will not develop the cognitive or technological skills that these types of media supposedly stimulate. These claims and concerns are excessive and may come at a cost. We all need to learn and function in this technologically advanced society, but we also need to find a balance. Ultimately, we must control the technology and not let the technology control us!

Community Programs

Docs in the Park Reach out and Read Girls on the Run United Way of Frederick Maryland Interagency Early Childhood Committee Mental Health Association LiveWell Frederick Family Resource, Information & Education Network for Down Syndrome