When it comes to children and technology, guidelines for media use are becoming more flexible given the realities of the digital world in which we live. The latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest a common-sense approach for how parents and children should use media like TV, video games, books, music and social media.
At the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, we research media in order to educate and empower children and those who care for them to create and consume media in ways that optimize children’s health and development. To that end, we’ve compiled the following parenting tips specifically to guide you in how you approach media use with your preschooler.
Use the acronym M.E.D.I.A. to remember these tips! (For tips on media use specific to infants and toddlers, read this post.)
M is for message. Television programs and videos can aid in learning if their messages encourage learning and prosocial behaviors. Educational programming designed for children, such as Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer, can benefit children’s learning and development, especially since their content is interactive. But, watch out for the commercials — they often contain unhealthy messages and can negatively influence young children.
E is for environment. Keep screens like TVs, computers and video game consoles in common areas in your house so you can monitor their use. Insist on a “screen-free” family mealtime rule so children can focus on eating and sharing stories from their day. That means turning off the TV, even if it’s only on in the background. And, keep all screens out of your children’s bedrooms so they can get the 11-13 hours of sleep they need each night.
D is for developmental stage. Young children take in everything they see, but they may process it differently than adults do. For example, preschoolers can’t reliably tell the difference between fantasy and reality, so something clearly make-believe (like a character transforming from a human to an animal) might be terrifying. Whenever your preschooler is present, choose media designed for his age group. Pre-plan your child’s screen choices by familiarizing yourself with the content ahead of time.
I is for information. Make informed decisions about media by using resources from the Center on Media and Child Health talking to other parents and researching products before your child uses them.
A is for amount. Preschoolers need time for free play, family meals, playing with friends and sleep. So prioritize screen time after those tasks have been accomplished. Typically, preschoolers lose interest after 15-20 minutes. When this happens, shut off the media and move on to another activity. And, don’t forget to set a good example by limiting your own media use!