Pediatricians revise screen-time recommendations

Remember how the AMA recommendations concerning screen time have been terrible? For example, the AMA treats TV and video games the same even though one is passive and one is active. 

Lisa Nielsen, who leads technology initiatives for New York City public schools, has been saying for years that not all screen time is equal. So recently I was super-excited to read that the American Medical Association is retracting its draconian, outdated recommendations for raising kids.

I think the AMA is too invested in maintaining the status quo instead of leading reform.

For example, the AMA combats child obesity by saying kids need to go out and play more. The obvious response would be that kids are in school too long. Philip Greenspun shows that other nations score better on standardized tests than US kids do, and those kids are in school for four hours a day. So if the AMA wants to get kids outside more, you think they’d go after the long school days. Is it healthy for kids to sit in a classroom all day? No. Of course not.

So far, the AMA is not recommending homeschooling. But I do think that eventually—like, in the next ten years—the AMA will recommend educating kids at home. And here’s what gives me hope:

Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement saying the group is rethinking it’s low-tolerance approach to screen time. The AAP admits that their view of technology is outdated and says “our policies must evolve.”

That’s satisfying to me. Because I tell myself that in ten years it will be a no-brainer to homeschool, and parents will stop telling themselves lies about the perils of screen time. Meanwhile, the new guidelines won’t be available until fall 2016. Which underlines the need for parents to act on their own without waiting for some sanctioned medical community to give permission.

We need to take the health of our kids into our own hands. If the national medical associations are retracting what they thought was true, then surely the parents cannot do any worse. We need to go with our instincts, because the advice of experts is the last thing to keep up with the realities of our kids. Our kids do not need to wait until the doctors get it right.

13 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I often wonder if the whole screen time issue could be compared to when books became widely dispersed….

    “All my child does is sit staring at a book.”
    “He is not playing or getting exercise.”
    “I limit his reading time. This can’t be good for him.”

  2. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    The main reason I started homeschooling was to save time by elimating all the wasted space necessary for moving/controlling mass amounts of kids around in public school. We spend only about four hours a day officially covering math, science, history and language skills. Then we cook, watch educational videos, play video games, go to dance class and Kung Fu, and we read a lot. Oh and we’ve gone almost totally paperless using a tablet for most of our books, videos and games with a laptop to write on and take notes with! So I guess you could say our “screen time” has increased ten fold and even though the learning goes well into the evenings with evening classes for dance, music and martial arts, we have the time and flexibly to enjoy what we do more because we don’t have to cram things into someone else’s schedule. I also think the definition of screen time has changed way faster than any studies on its effects can possibly measure. And depending on the kid, interacting with a tablet app, video game, or even looking something up on you tube, could possibly teach them more about problem solving than standard worksheets ever could.

  3. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    Doctors are the consistently the most anti-homeschool demographic out there. It makes sense too because they are the ones who did the best in school and for whom “credentialism” is everything. On a side note….I love to provoke them, especially the fat ones!

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    My kids get unlimited screen time, this includes TV. My oldest daughter learns primarily through visual means. Documentaries and other quality programming aren’t “passive” for her. She is fully engaged and engrossed in such topics as biology, ecology, and geology. She has learned more from “watching tv” than she has in any classroom for her age. When she has exhausted all the documentaries and youtube videos I can find, we go to the library to get books for her to read-NOT from the kids section. She is able to identify almost every type of finch from memory because of this, and that is only one example of the positive effects screen time has on my daughter.

    A typical day at home she will read at least one book, as well as focus on academics like math, spelling, and grammar. All pre-selected by her as part of her self-directed, customized learning. She also plays video games every day. In a typical week she swims at two practices for a team she is on. She goes to theater and music lessons once a week.

    The fact is, as unschoolers who are in charge of our own learning and living, we have many hours in the day to do whatever we want and this gives us a large window that can be used for screen time, or not.

    I have never cared much for Pediatrician’s recommendations on screen time.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      Is your oldest naturally drawn to “quality” programming? In other words, how much guidance do you give her in selecting the programming she watches. I have a daughter who also seems to learn better visually and is more engaged in things like short documentaries on various subjects, but she would choose to watch what I consider poor quality TV if given the choice. She’s 8 and I’m curious about the path your daughter has taken in guiding her own learning and how much guidance you needed to give to move her towards the quality programming. I struggle big time with screen time and currently limit it significantly. Any input you have on your experience with your daughter would be appreciated:)

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        My daughter will be 9 soon, and she has always naturally gravitated towards documentaries because she is a visual learner with a passion for science. I don’t do much guiding since she is an autodidact. I recently found a website where you can order free documentaries and they just arrived. But my point in making my above statement is that for her, TV isn’t a passive experience.

        Since I don’t limit their screen time, and about half of what she watches isn’t educational. But that has led to her drawing and creating comic books, as well as writing short stories. If junk TV can get my kid who HATES writing to write stories then that is great, because sometimes the mere request to write anything has produced tears.

        Some days the TV never gets turned on, but not because I limit it. And when I ask them to turn it off or if we need to go somewhere they don’t have any issues turning it off.

        I actually find that I need to give most of the guidance when it comes to video games. My oldest gets overstimulated sometimes when playing too much. Too much for her is when her cheeks start getting rosy. With video games too much screen time manifests itself physically…tv doesn’t do that to her.

        Have you tried not limiting to see what happens? Do you have Netflix? My daughter goes to Netflix and searches for new documentaries and science shows every day.

        • Kevin
          Kevin says:

          Thanks so much for your reply. I have never given my daughters unlimited screen time, but I have thought about doing a 2 week trial to observe what takes place. When they watch TV, I can’t say it’s an active experience, but I honestly haven’t paid that close attention. If we watch something together, I’ll often pause the show and ask them questions to make sure they’re paying attention. I’m not sure how much they retain without me doint this. I love that you recognize when your daughter gets overstimulated in video games. I imagine she then recognizes that too which should help her monitor herself when it comes to screen time. This is something I want for my children – for them to recognize when any behavior is becoming unhealthy. We do have Netflix, so I’m thinking we will do a trial run of unlimited screen time during their free time to see what happens:) Thanks again for your comments. Also, I’d be interested in the website you mentioned with free documentaries.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I did some searching and found the original article and symposium proceedings document on the American Academy of Pediatrics website at . I think they’re well aware they’re behind the curve on giving conclusive scientific advice. However, they did provide key messages which I thought were good. Also, this statement – “Given the breadth of the topic, the symposium limited its focus to early learning, game-based learning, social/emotional and developmental concerns, and strategies to foster digital citizenship.” – made me think of the numerous avenues of study that “screen time” does encompass.

  6. sg
    sg says:

    I think limiting screen time is less important than making sure kids get lots of non-screen time. It’s a subtle distinction, like instead of limiting junk food (which can cause an unhealthy obsession with it), provide more healthy food (lessening the desire for junk).

    In the case of screen time, if a kid doesn’t have a lot of experience with how good it can feel to work up a sweat and run til they’re out of breath and flooded with endorphins, then they won’t know they’re missing anything when they waste a whole day internetting.

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