When Kathleen George’s stepdaughter entered middle school, her media habits began to subtly change. A packed schedule of cheerleading, sports and school left the 13-year-old with less time to watch shows or play games online.
Instead, her screen time was increasingly dominated by texting friends and exploring social media apps like Instagram. Helping the young teen learn to monitor and manage her media use was top of mind for George and her husband. “We wanted to instill good habits around her phone and other tech, especially given that it will probably be a part of her life forever,” George says.
As children mature, a one-size-fits-all screen time policy is not ideal. Should time limits apply to texting? What about to reading books on a digital device? Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other experts acknowledge that media use can have both benefits and drawbacks. The key is finding a healthy balance that fits parents’ values.
Not all screens are equal
For years, the AAP had recommended that kids over the age of 2 spend less than 2 hours in front of screens per day. But the organization revamped its guidance last year, noting that in an increasingly digital world, a hard and fast rule doesn’t always work.
“It’s no longer as simple as ‘are screens on or off?’” says Sierra Filucci, executive editor of parenting content for the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. “Now it’s about the content, the individual child and what he or she is doing.”
The majority of teens spend more than 4 hours per day on screens, according to a 2015 survey by Common Sense Media. While some of this screen time can be beneficial, it can also pose risks, the AAP policy statement reports. For instance, social media can connect teens with specific support networks and help extended families stay connected. Phones and apps make it easier to collaborate on schoolwork — and the internet is the gateway to infinite information for a curious mind.