New recommendations for Screen Time for Children + Follow the 4 "M's" Rule of Thumb

Article Source: Globe & Mail 
To sum up: Screen time of any kind is still not recommended for children under the age of two, a reaffirmation of a long-standing rule of thumb for babies and toddlers. For children between the ages of two and five, the society recommends routine screen time be limited to less than one hour a day and that parents and caregivers watch TV programs or play online games with their preschoolers and kindergartners, rather than leave them to swipe and zone out on their own. The society also urges parents to power down their devices during family time and turn off the background TV.
The Canadian pediatricians’ group opted not to follow the lead of its U.S. counterpart, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which just last fall, softened its old hard-and-fast prohibition on screen time for children under the age of two.
The U.S. guidelines make specific exceptions for Skype and FaceTime (which many doctors and parents don’t categorize as screen time anyway) and for 18- to 24-month-olds, so long as adults watch or play the digital content with them.
Otherwise, the pediatricians’ groups on both sides of the border agree: There is no good evidence that infants and toddlers benefit from solo screen time. Some studies have found that preschoolers can learn from screens, but only if the digital content is high-quality, educational and dolloped out judiciously by moms and dads with the self-control of hunger strikers at a buffet.
“The youngest children cannot learn from screens. They’re not developmentally ready to transfer what they see on a screen to real life,” said Michelle Ponti, the London, Ont. pediatrician who chaired the digital health task force that researched and wrote the new Canadian guidelines.
“We do know what does benefit early learning and that is face-to-face, live interactions with an engaged parent or other caregiver,” Dr. Ponti said.
Among the exhaustive list of citations attached to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s position statement is a recent systematic review of 76 studies that looked at how television exposure affects children’s cognition and behaviour. Published in the journal Developmental Review, the paper found that, overall, high-quality educational shows (Sesame Street is a popular example) can help improve preschoolers’ basic academic skills.
But the review found that, for infants, watching TV was associated with “inattentive/hyperactive behaviours, lower executive functions, and language delay, at least in the short-term.”
Still, associations can be tricky. They are not causes. Are TV watching and hyperactivity sometimes linked because TV makes kids hyper, or because parents of hyperactive children are more inclined to switch on the TV to give themselves a break? Several of the studies found that content mattered a great deal. Slowly paced educational programming seemed not to have the same negative effects as fast-paced cartoons.
Many of the studies in the review involved children who watched two or more hours of TV a day. Is screen time safe in shorter bursts? And what about the new generation of interactive, educational apps that have yet to be the subject of much rigorous research? Are they more like TVs or more like interactive toys?
Dimitri Christakis, the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said the rise of touch-screen technology was “fundamentally a game changer,” for researchers who study child development.
Children sit passively while they watch TV, but they can engage with an interactive app – the kind that rewards their counting or letter knowledge with a star or whistle, for example – in a totally different way.
Dr. Christakis, who co-authored the recent AAP policy statement, said the research on these products is in its infancy and the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of apps that market themselves as educational are not backed by any real science.
“We don’t recommend that children use these apps before the age of two,” he said. “I just think we have to be thoughtful … we say that limited use starting at [18] months of age, ideally with a parent and with interactive apps that are slow-paced, is okay. That’s a far cry from endorsing their usage.”
That is part of the reason the CPS opted – after much discussion – not to insert into their recommendations a specific exemption for FaceTime or Skype with family, she said.
Dr. Christakis was more willing to cut me that slack. “I often to say to parents, if you’re using the device to give yourself a break … I think that’s fine. I really do,” he said. “But know that that’s why you’re doing it. I think if you’re using it because you think it’s educational or beneficial for your child, that’s where you need to think again.”
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How to manage screen time
The Canadian Paediatric Society’s new position statement recommends families follow the four “M”s when it comes to screen time and young children.
Minimize screen time
Screen time for children under 2 is not recommended. For two- to five-year-old children, limit routine screen time to less than one hour a day. Maintain daily screen-free time, especially at meals and at least an hour before bedtime.
Mitigate the risks associated with screen time
Be present and engaged when screens are used and, whenever possible, co-view with children. Be aware of digital content, prioritizing educational, age-appropriate, interactive content.
Be mindful about the use of screen time
Conduct a self-assessment of screen habits and develop a family media plan for when, where and how screens may (and may not) be used and be reassured there is no evidence to support introducing technology at a young age.
Model healthy screen time
Adults should turn off their devices at home during family time, turn off screens when not in use and avoid background TV.

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