The American Academy of Pediatrics is catching up with the times.
Back in 2011, it issued a policy called "Media Use By Children Younger Than 2 Years," which recommended no more than two hours of screen time a day for kids older than 2, and discouraged any time at all in front of a screen for toddlers younger than that. It reaffirmed those guidelines in 2013.
In the October issue of AAP News, released this week, the group acknowledged that that prescription was neither realistic nor necessary. "In a world where 'screen time' is becoming simply 'time,' our policies must evolve or become obsolete."
The academy in May convened a two-day symposium where researchers, educators and medical experts met to evaluate data to create an updated and more realistic set of guidelines for parents.
A formally updated set of guidelines will come out in 2016. The current recommendation is that parents monitor and limit their children's screen time, but there's no magic number of maximum hours to which they should ascribe. Instead, parents should curate their children's interactions with media and "co-view" what they're doing.
"Digital life begins at a young age, and so must parental guidance," says the article, which is titled "Beyond ‘Turn It Off’: How to Advise Families on Media Use." According to research cited by the academy, 30% of children first interact with a mobile device while they're still in diapers.
"Children who are 'growing up digital' should learn healthy concepts of digital citizenship," the article says. That means parents should model good etiquette in their online interactions and set reasonable limits on their own screen time.
Activities like playing video games with a parent or video-chatting with a faraway relative are preferable to passively viewing videos, which the academy says have not been proved to benefit young children's language skills.
And in the sea of so-called "educational" apps and games out there, parents should put in the time to determine which ones are worthwhile. The academy says Common Sense Media's website offers reviews and guidance for age-appropriate online activities.
Overall, the focus should be on fostering positive and beneficial digital engagement, and teaching kids and teens how to use the Internet responsibly. In what is possibly a first for the organization, it acknowledges "sexting" and advises parents to discuss appropriate behavior online and in the real world (also known as IRL -- "in real life" -- in teenspeak).
Creating tech-free zones around the house -- particularly in bedrooms and at mealtimes -- should be a standard practice for all family members. Parents should still give priority to spending time talking directly to their young children without a screen involved.