The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday released a newly revised policy statement that essentially calls out parents for being naive when it comes to the way and extent to which their kids use media today.
"This is the 21st century and they need to get with it," Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new policy and a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist, told The Associated Press. "I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography."
But if the group thinks parents need to get with it, kids may say the same about the new policy. Specifically, the group says parents should limit their kids' "entertainment media use" to one to two hours a day, monitor what their kids are using and accessing, watch videos together as a way to discuss family values, and establish a family home use plan for all media as a means of modeling good media behavior.
"Media, from television to the 'new media' (including cell phones, iPads, and social media), are a dominant force in children's lives," the group writes. "Although television is still the predominant medium for children and adolescents, new technologies are increasingly popular. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to be concerned by evidence about the potential harmful effects of media messages and images; however, important positive and prosocial effects of media use should also be recognized."
Positively or negatively, the role of media in kids' lives is greater than it's ever been, and at an earlier age. In spite of the already-made recommendation that kids under the age of 2 get zero screen time, Common Sense Media has found that 38 percent of toddlers and babies under the age of 2 have used a mobile device. James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, describes these kids as "true digital natives."
In the UK, meanwhile, 1 in 10 kids gets a cell phone by the age of 5. In fact, it's news when parents deny their kids cell phones -- as comedian Louis C.K. does, telling Conan O'Brien that mobile devices are taking away "the ability to just sit there." There have even been reports of toddler iPad withdrawal tantrums.
Strasburger said the onus isn't just on parents. Pediatricians, schools, research organizations, the entertainment and advertising industries, and government all play a role, and the group has recommendations for pediatricians and schools as well, including that well-child visits tally how much time the child spends with media and what Internet-connected devices are in the bedroom.
He also pointed out to USA Today that the federal government hasn't drafted a comprehensive report on the role media plays in the lives of children since 1982 -- the year the Federal Communications Commission first authorized commercial cellular service in the US.
The policy statement goes onto say that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends almost eight hours a day using some form of new media, while for older kids and teens that average is 11 hours a day. Not only are most kids online (84 percent), but most have cell phones (75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds) and most have an actual relic of the past -- a TV -- in their bedrooms (71 percent).
This is the group's first policy update in five years. Given that heavy media use is associated with a variety of health issues, such as obesity, lack of sleep, and aggression, the group says it "continues to be concerned by evidence about the potential harmful effects of media messages and images."