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Educators Recommend New Guidelines on Screen Time

When I had my son, now a toddler, I knew exactly how I wanted to raise him: screen-free. I had a goal not to expose him to television or my tablet computer until he was at least 12 months old, and we blew through that goal right through to age two and next month, age three. I believe that keeping my child away from television encourages his imagination and self-learning, and I’m not alone.

My sister-in-law, however, has a different approach: she believes that children should be exposed to television, computers and tablets as soon as possible, so they can learn the technology and succeed in later life. In fact, for Christmas, her four-year-old and six-year-old just received their own iPads so they didn’t have to share with mom and dad! 

There are plenty of others in her camp, just as plenty of parents are in mine, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of two should have no exposure to screen-based media, while children and adolescents should not be exposed to such media for more than two hours a day. "Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than 1 or 2 hours per day," the organization states, "and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies and using their imaginations in free play."

A new study from the Graduate School of Education at The University of Western Australia suggests these guidelines need to be adjusted to reflect the pervasive influence of screens in all areas of life. They suggest the AAP guidelines are unrealistic when children are using screens in school, for homework, and for social media as well as entertainment. 

Past studies have suggested that excessive exposure to screen-based media may have negative health implications for children and adolescents. These studies have linked too much time spent watching TV to anxiety, a higher risk of high blood pressure, and more disrupted sleep. But the researchers in Western Australia note that screens are increasingly being used in education and that it’s simply not possible for children who use screens in school to limit their total exposure to just two hours per day.

For now, I’m keeping my son away from screens. He’s a creative, smart kid with a genuine love of the outdoors, and I have no doubt he’ll quickly learn how to use new technologies when I decide they’re appropriate. And besides, he’ll always have his niece and nephew to act as his tutors!


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