Child watches video on an iPhone

Parents should limit the total entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day, pediatricians recommend. (Marcus Donner/Reuters)

Concerns about children's use of media are increasingly urgent in the digital age, say U.S. pediatricians who now recommend that parents establish a media consumption.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released its revised policy statement on children, adolescents and the media on Monday at a conference in Orlando.

In 2010, a U.S. study showed the average eight- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with different media, such as TV, cellphones, iPads and social media. Older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day.

"A healthy approach to children’s media use should both minimize potential health risks and foster appropriate and positive media use — in other words, it should promote a healthy ‘media diet,'" Dr. Marjorie Hogan, a co-author of the policy, said in a release.

Co-author Dr. Victor Strasburger,  a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist, said that for nearly three decades, the academy has expressed concerns about the amount of time that children and teenagers spend with media and about some of the content they are viewing, which is more pressing in the digital age. 

"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," Strasburger said.

Two-thirds of children and teenagers report that their parents have "no rules" about time spent with media. In another study, more than 60 per cent of teenagers send or receive text messages after "lights out," and they report increased levels of tiredness, including at school.

Tips to help guide parents

The academy said pediatricians should recommend that parents:

  • Limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day. Online homework is an exception.
  • Discourage screen media exposure for children under two  years of age.
  • Keep the TV set and internet-connected electronic devices out of the child's bedroom.
  • Monitor what media their children are using and accessing, including web site and social media sites.
  • Co-view TV, movies and videos with children and teens, and use this as a way of discussing important family values.
  • Establish a family home use plan for all media that includes enforcement of a mealtime and bedtime "curfew" for all media devices, including cellphones. Set "reasonable but firm" rules about cellphones, texting, internet and social media use.

The authors said there's considerable evidence that a bedroom TV increases the risk for obesity, substance use and exposure to sexual content. Given that, they encouraged pediatricians to ask two media questions during every visit:

  • How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?
  • Is there a television set or internet-connected device in the child's bedroom?

Curbing web use could be 'catastrophic'

Strasburger said he realizes many children will scoff at advice from adults they consider "media-Neanderthals," but he hopes the policy statement will lead to more limits from parents and schools as well as more government research on the effects of media.

The group said shows like Sesame Street can help children learn letters and numbers, and the media can also teach empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and interpersonal skills.

For teens, listening to positive rather than neutral song lyrics can foster helping behaviours, and positive information about adolescent health is increasingly available available on YouTube and cellphone text message campaigns. 

Mark Risinger, 16, of Glenview, Ill., who is allowed to use his smartphone and laptop in his room, said the two-hour limit on internet use "would be catastrophic," adding children will find a way around it.

His mother, Amy Risinger, said she agrees with restricting time on social media, but that parents should be able to take their children's maturity level into account when setting media limits. 

With files from The Associated Press