The AAP’s Stance on Media Use and My Personal Observations

Hello everyone,

We must be engaged with our children in their use of technology during the digital age.
We must be engaged with our children in their use of technology during the digital age.

I think we all remember the 2011 AAP Policy statement “Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years.”  This statement basically said we shouldn’t allow our children under the age of 2 years old to even look at a cellphone or a TV.  Of course there has been a boom in iPad and other tablet sales since 2011.  The development of apps targeted at children has grown significantly.  Recently, the AAP has moved to change their policy into a more scientific based recommendation.  I agree with this move.  I think the original statement from 2011 was a knee jerk reaction that was not scientifically based on anything.  Remember, the first iPhone came out in 2009 and the first iPad was only brought to the market in 2010.  How then was the original 2011 policy statement a scientifically based recommendation if we only had this technology for a year?  It wasn’t scientifically based, it was a knee jerk reaction to something new.  No different than the reaction to the first automobile, commercial air travel, or the television.  We always seem to over caution things that are new or foreign to the world we grew up in.

Let us take a quick look at some of the statistics and statements recently published in a September article by the AAP in “Beyond Turn it Off: How to Advise Families on Media Use.”

Today, more than 30% of U.S. children first play with a mobile device when they still are in diapers, according to Common Sense Media. Furthermore, almost 75% of 13- to 17-year-olds have smartphones, and 24% admit using their phones almost constantly, according to the Pew Research Center.

When is the last time you have seen one of these?
When is the last time you have seen one of these?

Okay, so a big chunk of our kids are using mobile devices and media.  I think I’m more impressed that 25% of kids 13 to 17 years old don’t have smartphones.  I thought every teenager had a phone.  Maybe those unlucky kids just have flip phones.  I’m pretty sure my kids are going to have a phone at some point, but they won’t be part of that 24% that uses them constantly.  The reason my kids will have a cell phone… when’s the last time you saw a pay phone?  I haven’t seen a payphone in a long time.  I want my kids to be able to call me and vice a versa.

I like AAP’s current recommendations on screen time usage because it was built from an inclusive symposium.

Supported by the AAP Friends of Children Fund, this two-day event brought together leading social science, neuroscience and media researchers, educators, pediatricians, and representatives from key partner organizations.

I’m highlighting educators in that statement to bring up a distinct point here.  I understand that pediatricians may be the only game in town from birth to 3 year olds.  Pediatricians are also the gatekeepers to many of the services required by young children.  They help identify children’s issues and send them to the places where they can receive professional help.  I also have the utmost respect for every pediatrician out there.  They have saved me on many a late night when I was worrying about my child being horribly sick.  Pediatricians are basically super heroes in my book.  So don’t think that I’m slamming pediatricians in the rest of this article.  I’m not trying to do that here.  However, when it comes to early childhood development in the realm of education, we need to seek the advice of other professionals besides pediatricians.

Who is more qualified to discuss the use of technology and it’s influence on a child’s early development?  Here are your options:

  1. Pediatrician who has a Doctorates.
  2. Early Childhood Educator who has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education.
  3. School Psychologist who has 8 to 10 years of higher education.
  4. A Special Educator who has a masters degree in special education.
  5. A Child Psychologist who also has an advanced degree with a doctorates.

On that list, the pediatrician is one of the last people I would ask about use of technology and its effect on my child’s early development.  There are people out there much more qualified to discuss this subject.  I applaud the AAP for taking the lead when it comes to this subject.  I applaud the AAP for including these professionals in their discussion about the subject.  However, I think the AAP is opening their umbrella a bit wide when trying to cover this topic.  For instance, you need to go the doctors office to renew a prescription.  The doctor writes you a new prescription for your medication.  You then go to the pharmacist to get the medication you need to treat a disease or ailment.  If I have questions about this medication issued to me, who is a better person to ask, the general practitioner or the pharmacist?  That’s right, the pharmacist because the pharmacist is the technical expert when it comes to medication.  I’m not saying the doctor cannot talk medication or isn’t qualified to do so, I’m just saying the pharmacist is much more qualified to discuss the topic of medication.  The people I would rather ask about screen time, different learning applications, and my child’s early development would be a Teacher, School Psychologist, or Special Educator.  These professionals are more qualified to discuss this subject than a pediatrician.  That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

The AAP makes sound suggestions in there latest iteration on this subject.  The first statement I really like is Parenting has not changed.  That’s right, no matter how much things change, good parents are still engaged with their children, set limits, and teach kindness.  Role modeling is another good recommendation.  It’s something I need to practice a bit more.  If your kids see you on technology or sitting in front of TV all day, then they believe those behaviors are okay.  Content, Content, Content!  Folks, if you are letting your grade school age child watch violent movies or play violent video games, you are failing them.  I am appalled when I talk to kids under the age of 12 who are playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.  Those are some of the most violent video games ever created.  Set Limits folks!  Using media is just a small portion of your child’s day.  There are other things they can do during the day.  Let’s do a quick breakdown of my kids day.

  1. Sleeping
  2. Eating
  3. Playing with toys inside
  4. Playing with their siblings
  5. Playing with Mom and Dad
  6. Playing with other kids
  7. Playing outside and exploring
  8. Coloring
  9. Reading books
  10. Playing education apps on the iPad/iPhone
  11. Watching TV

My kids do all of these things and at the most we only spend two to three hours a day using technology.  It does not replace the outdoors, nor will it ever replace the outdoors.  My kids love to play outdoors and it’s crucial in their development.  However, we cannot discount the fact that utilizing technology that engages children in a productive manner will help them succeed when they head off to school.  My oldest used the iPhone when she was less than two years old.  She uses apps on my iPad that she enjoys and these apps reinforce sight words and math.  It’s just like doing homework except she really enjoys it.  My oldest is a well adjusted, smart, and successful kindergartener.  Technology had no negative influences that I can see.  Technology was supervised, regulated, and implemented in a responsible manner.  That’s all there is to it my fellow parents.  Technology isn’t bad.  When regulated responsibly, it is a tool that multiplies a child’s learning experience by creating a scaffolded learning environment.

I like what the AAP has recommended in their brief outline.  It is a very common sense approach to the utilization of technology by our children.  I’m glad they are updating and looking to put out some formal recommendations in the future.  I’m wondering why the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) or the National Education Association (NEA) isn’t taking the lead on this subject.  AAP is finally figuring out what most of the responsible parents out there already know.  The responsible use of technology has only strengthened my children’s early education and if used responsibly, will foster positive digital citizenship in my children’s future.

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