The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends children should stare at screens for no more than two hours a day. In addition to our old nemesis, the television, the group’s new guidelines weigh in on new media or the computers, smart phones, tablets and other devices imperiling our nation’s youth. 

Now the pediatric czars would prefer children get much less than two hours but settled on <1 to 2 hours per day because the last time they decreed an outright ban it didn’t go so well. If you’ll recall the kiddie docs got some complaints for the lack of stellar evidence behind their no TV for kids under two recommendation and eventually revised it to merely "discourage" screen time for the stroller set. After all it’s not like a flat-screen reached out and strangled a baby.

So this time around the AAP wisely brought some fresh evidence:  

According to a recent study, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend 11 hours per day. Presence of a television (TV) set in a child’s bedroom increases these figures even more, and 71% of children and teenagers report having a TV in their bedroom. Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school—it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping

8 hours, 11 hours, impressive. 

These estimates come from a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation national survey of 2,002 third- to twelfth-graders. The figures sound a tad on the extreme side especially for kids on the soccer-viola-Mandarin circuit but I'm not here to argue kids aren’t watching enough.

In fact, I agree with the AAP that there's a problem: 

Despite all of this media time and new technology, many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents. In a recent study, two-thirds of children and teenagers report that their parents have “no rules” about time spent with media. AAP media policy, 2013

My own unscientific research confirms two-thirds of parents who do have rules don't enforce them. Personally I’d rather not scroll through my teen’s texts or Instagram let alone attempt to trace the original source of the pregnant-girl chain emails circulating through the fifth grade if not the tri-state area. But if I hadn’t been so nosey I would have missed a number of opportunities to talk with my kids about online pitfalls and etiquette not to mention this kind of social media mess:

One study found that 20% of adolescents either sent or received a sexually explicit image by cell phone or Internet. AAP media policy, 2013.

So I understand the concerns of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I get it. The long hours online. The bullying, the sex, the violence, the unattainable beauty standards, the consumerism, the cult of celebrity, the Khan Academy.

I still have one question.  

Why two hours? 

Despite all the cited studies and the statistics in the new policy, the AAP forgot to tell why in their highly rational and informed opinion two hours or less is optimal for children’s health and well-being. I am left to surmise what if any empirical evidence lies behind this particular figure. Maybe some study found Finnish kids average two hours. Maybe STEM majors average 1.99999 hours a day. Maybe there was a coin toss. Who knows. I couldn't possibly drag myself away from Bloggers-Idol to solve this mystery because I only have a few minutes of screen time left today.

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About the Author

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D., is a former research psychologist and founder of Momma Data, a non-profit organization that tracks and fact-checks parenting media.

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