Media Mentorship: New Thoughts from AAP on Screen Media and Children

Back in May, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) convened a symposium on the topic of children, teens and screen media called Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium. A group of pediatricians recently published proceedings from the event highlighting some of the themes like “diversity matters”, “gaming, gamification, and m-Health can be powerful learning tools” and “screen media can adversely affect sleep” that came out of the discussions and offering recommendations for families, pediatricians and educators. And it seems like AAP’s message is slightly different.

The AAP is not new to the discussion about kids, teens and media nor making recommendations for families and screen media use. In fact, I always mention the AAP’s 2013 policy statement on media use when I talk with librarians about Media Mentorship, along with policy statements written by experts at other organizations such as the Fred Rogers Center, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Zero to Three, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. What is different about the new recommendations included in  the proceedings is their tone. Instead of solely focusing on the negative aspects of screen media use, they are offering recommendations on how to promote a healthy media diet. It moves away from a simple “don’t” approach to a list of “do” recommendations that reflect the complexity of the evolving screen media landscape and the help families need.

With these updated recommendations, AAP seems to be acknowledging what experts within AAP and beyond its membership have been saying for some time now: that all screen (aka digital or new) media is not the same, using screen media can be a positive experience and families need help (from media mentors perhaps?) navigating the wild west of screen media for children. The recommendations contain some of the same the messages found in earlier statements, but they are part of a broader package that incorporates the nuances that are part of the kids and screen media discussion. For example, in the 2013 policy statement, AAP states that screen media use with kids under 2 should be zero. In these latest recommendations, pediatricians will find suggestions for families like “Engage in using digital media together” and “Parenting strategies are the same across various environments, including screen media.”

When I was talking to a group of librarians-in-training recently about the AAP’s 2013 statement on media and kids as part of a presentation on Media Mentorship, I was asked a question that often comes up. One of the graduate students asked me “So how do you personally feel about using digital media with kids under 2?” I told her “It depends.” And it does. As Lisa Guernsey would say, it depends on the 3 C’s: content, context and the child. The recommendations and themes in the recently published symposium proceedings (and hopefully in a forthcoming updated AAP statement) seem to agree. While I think there are still gaps in the recommendations, for example some screen media can actually promote “conversation, play, and creativity” instead of just displace it, AAP is demonstrating its responsiveness to the rapidly changing world of screen media and its use by children and teens.

AAP continues to rely on research-based recommendations, but long term research, which I support, is slow for obvious reasons.  Researchers need time. Meanwhile digital media and its use by both kids and teens is happening and changing regardless, so how do we help families with their media needs and promote positive media use? With the recommendations in these proceedings, I think the AAP is giving pediatricians something positive to work with when they talk to families about their healthy digital media diet and reaffirms the importance of putting kids and teens first.

Isn’t this a great opportunity for Media Mentors (librarians) and pediatricians to create partnerships that support families?

Want to know more about Media Mentorship in the library? Check out these resources.

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