Tablets, Phones And Tech: How Much Screen Time Is OK For Kids? : NPR Ed As technology is increasingly woven into family life, parents struggle to navigate limits without personal experience from their own childhoods to fall back on.
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Screen Time Reality Check — For Kids And Parents

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Screen Time Reality Check — For Kids And Parents

Screen Time Reality Check — For Kids And Parents

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'Tis the day after Christmas, and all through the house, many kids probably are not stirring because they're joyfully lost in digital devices. Many parents know that well. Maybe the kids are playing with that new app or game on their smartphone, maybe computer tablet, smart TV. Perfectly fine today, it's a holiday, but experts caution against too much screen time for children, especially younger children. And there's been some changes in their thinking this year. And let's talk about that with NPR's Eric Westervelt from the NPR Ed team. He's on the line. Hey, Eric.


GREENE: So what exactly are experts saying or updating when it comes to these guidelines?

WESTERVELT: The American Academy of Pediatrics pulled back this year from what had been a really long-standing recommendation. They came out with it way back in 1999 that children under age 2 shouldn't have any screen time. They updated that based on research and the reality that screens are everywhere in people's lives all the time.

Now the organization still suggests no screen time is ideal for children under 18 months, except for things like video chats with grandma. But for kids in general 18 to 2 years, the Academy switched and said we need to focus now on what's on the screen and who else is in the room. The recommendation now is to avoid solo screen time with children in that age group.

GREENE: I see.

WESTERVELT: The idea is to treat screen time more like reading a book. You should have a parent or caregiver there present, interacting, pointing out what's on the screen, talking to the toddler.

GREENE: Or talking to grandma.

WESTERVELT: Right, FaceTime and Skype don't count.

GREENE: (Laughter) That's right. Well, what about as kids get older, I mean, like ages 2, 3, 4, 5?

WESTERVELT: Well, the Academy recommends for that group no more than an hour of screen time a day. And as with the younger children recommendations, the Academy says, look, it's important to try to have a parent or caregiver be present. That engagement aspect is key.

GREENE: Eric, I could hear parents hearing this and being like, that's all well and good, but in day-to-day life, it is so hard to figure out how to make the rules at home, how to enforce the rules, when it's OK to be flexible. I mean, this is tough stuff.

WESTERVELT: It is indeed. I mean, enforcing an hour of screen time in the real world, many parents might say it's just not happening. And we heard a lot about that challenge when we got a group of parents together at an NPR Generation Listen event in New York City recently. For example, some educators and experts suggest parents should, as much as possible, try to help curate their children's digital lives to help them tap into what's fun and creative and not just use a device as a babysitter. But Justin Krasner, a father of two children - a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old - says he isn't sure that's realistic.

JUSTIN RUBEN: I feel like if I can just get them out the door with pants on, it feels like we've won the morning. So I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to curate my kids' digital experience.

GREENE: (Laughter) The bar is low. Just get the kids out with the pants on.

WESTERVELT: Right, the breakfast challenge, get them out the door. I mean, it is tough. We talked to even experts who study this very issue of youth families and screen time. Amanda Lenhart does that for a living. She has four daughters, and she says, look, even I have a tough time putting my research recommendations into practice.

AMANDA LENHART: I don't think there are easy answers. The literature hasn't caught up, and the truth of it is a lot of times what I think we find is that we get all these great ideas from literature, but then putting it into practice is really, really difficult given the modern lives that we lead, whether it's that your kids won't touch a carrot from, you know, 20 feet away or that you really just need 25 minutes and so you put your kid in front of the screen so that you can get that time.

GREENE: And are we spending more time on devices as time goes on, I would imagine?

WESTERVELT: Right. There was a recent study out by Common Sense Media that said people with children spend on average almost nine and a half hours a day in front of a screen.

GREENE: Oh, the parents, these are the parents we're talking about.

WESTERVELT: Yeah. You know, here's the thing - 80 percent of parents in that study also said we think we're modeling good behavior for screen time and watching habits for the kids. But there's a bit of hypocrisy there. I mean, I'm guilty of it in my own house. My daughter calls me out on it and says you tell me I can't use the iPad anymore, but, you know, you're on your phone all the time. You're checking email, and you're - you know, she's right. I'm busted, you know? Do I really have to retweet Don Gonyea right then? No, I can wait.

GREENE: (Laughter) Our colleague Don Gonyea. I would retweet him anytime. That is valuable screen time, I would say, but set a better example in other places, Eric.

WESTERVELT: I'm going to try, David.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Eric Westervelt from the NPR Ed team. Thanks a lot, Eric.

WESTERVELT: Thank you, David.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, we misidentify Justin Ruben, a parent at the Generation Listen event, as Justin Krasner.]

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