Managing Media (photo illustration)
The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to make a media plan for their family, and to limit the amount of time children spend in front of screens.
Credit: John Arnold

With summer break approaching for kids of all ages, it’s a good time to set limits and establish healthy screen-time habits.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children older than two should spend no more than two hours a day on a tablet, in front of a TV or on a mobile device, though pediatricians point out that this doesn’t apply to students who have to use a computer to complete homework assignments.

“Two hours is the average we’d like in the ideal world because it affects their sleep and weight,” says University of New Mexico pediatrician Janet Ventura, MD.

Children two and under should be exposed to minimal amounts of screen time, according to Ventura.

“That’s hard when kids are being fussy,” she says, adding that playing outside or doing some other activity such as reading a picture book, is a better choice for rapidly developing brains.

“The media should not become your babysitter,” she says.

So what can parents do to reign in screen time? Before your kids can talk you into “just 10 more minutes!” of playing Fallout 4, have a family meeting to discuss screen time limits.

The AAP offers guidelines for curbing screen time for kids of all ages, which Ventura says she shares with parents.

In addition, especially as kids get older, in the tween to teen years, parents should “be mindful” of what sites their kids are visiting and should have access to their devices, Ventura says, adding that it’s a safety issue.

“(Teens) need their privacy and you don’t want to invade that but you want to make sure they’re safe online,” she says. “Parents should sit down and have a conversation with them and set limits. It’s not OK to start conversations with people you don’t know.”

According to CommonSenseMedia.org, kids 8 to 18 years old spend 7.5 hours a day with media and technology. The organization provides information, advice and reviews to help parents navigate technology in kids’ lives.

“These days, parents need to be extremely careful with movies or video games,” says another UNM pediatrician, Victor Strasburger, MD, a distinguished professor emeritus in the UNM School of Medicine and co-author of the AAP policy statement that offers guidance on managing children's media use.

He encourages parents to review and research whether the video games and movies your kids are begging to play or watch are age-appropriate.

Here are some tips from Ventura and Strasburger:

- “Kids’ rooms should be media-free zones,” says Ventura. This will keep them from messaging and playing on their phones or tablets at night.

- Children model parent behavior, so moms and dads should set limits for themselves, too.

- Engage the kids in activities such as playing board or card games, coloring and art projects or even playing with the dog. “Children are remarkably creative when left to their own devices,” Strasburger says. “A bored child will find a way of alleviating their boredom.”