With typical self-involvement, the media is buzzing about media -- specifically, the new media guidelines for parents from the American Academy of Pediatrics, outlined in an article titled “Children, Adolescents and the Media.” Many news outlets are reporting that the AAP is encouraging pediatricians to advise parents to restrict their children’s social media use, thus playing on our collective anxiety that this social media thing is getting out of control in a way that will virtually ensure plenty of people click on the link. The thing is, it’s not true.
The AAP is indeed full of (probably good) advice about children’s media consumption, but some reporters seem to be bit confused about what they actually said -- shocking, I know. First of all, the guidelines for the most part are simply concerned with the total amount of “screen time” parents allow kids ages 2+ to have: according to the AAP parents should limit “entertainment screen time,” whatever the device -- including TV, desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet -- to under two hours per day. Parents are also discouraged from allowing children under the age of two to have any screen time, period.
Pediatricians are also urged to advise parents to keep all devices with screens, including TVs and anything connected to the Internet, out of their kids’ bedrooms, and to prohibit any use of screen media after bedtime, including texting (obviously a big issue). Parents should “co-view” any movies, TV, and videos their kids are watching and use this as a way to discuss family values.
When it comes to social media, the AAP merely advises parents to monitor any social media sites -- along with any other Web sites -- their children are visiting, and to “establish reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet, and social media use.” Needless to say the AAP guidelines strongly discourage texting while driving, and also express concern about “sexting.”
Nowhere in the guidelines does it say parents should stop their children from using social media, or that social media is associated with obesity or aggression. Rather, the AAP guidelines cite studies correlating these (and other negative outcomes like drug abuse) with the presence of a TV in the bedroom.
Now, it’s entirely possible that social media and other forms of new media are supplanting TV as factors contributing to sedentary lifestyles and obesity among children (and adults). If you spend 12 hours a day on Facebook and YouTube, it stands to reason the effects may be similar to watching TV 12 hours a day -- thus the AAP’s focus on limiting screen time for children. But there’s nothing in the AAP guidelines suggesting social media is intrinsically unhealthy; in fact the AAP notes that “positive information about adolescent health is increasingly available through new media, including YouTube videos and campaigns that incorporate cell phone text messages.”