February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Moderate Screen Time OK for Tots, AAP Now Says


iStock/Thinkstock image

One can make the argument that the antonyms for moderation are “all” or “nothing.” Having nothing of something automatically makes us crave it, whether that something is potato chips, a banned book if you’re a tween, or, in the case of parents, allowing screen time for babies and toddlers when all you really want is to have a free moment to pee, dammit.

In 2011, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first launched media recommendations for children under the age of two, the first generation iPad did not exist, nor did the plethora of early learning apps that now routinely hit the market. Yet AAP’s first generation of media recommendations instructed parents to not only limit screen interactions to two hours a day for children two and older, they recommended zero screen time for the birth to 24-month-old set.

Zero is a lonely word. Zero does not understand a teen mother who is overwhelmed and needs a mental health break from her 16-month-old and  hands her iPhone over to the tot in an effort to gain a few minutes of quiet time. Zero makes one feel guilty, or ineffective.

For library practitioners of early literacy programs who may want to end our Mother Goose program by handing out iPads with the Mother Goose on the Loose app pre-loaded for parent/child interactions, zero presents a bit of a problem. It also suggests something “wrong” or negative when we allow young children to view an episode of Sesame Street with an older sibling.

In a reversal and acknowledgement that “scientific research and policy statements lag behind the pace of digital innovation,” as noted in an article on the AAP site, “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use,” AAP released newly revised media recommendations in September that acknowledge the basic principle of moderation.  Back in May, AAP held a media research symposium, Growing Up Digital, in Rosemont, IL, that largely helped shape the shift in policy guidelines. The key messages taken away from the symposium were, “family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Parents should play a video game with their kids, and always co-view with infants and toddlers,” according to the article.

AAP has also softened its tone to offer a compromise in this new world that the youngest millennials are inheriting. Screens are everywhere now—with no end in sight. In an October 20 press release responding to the new guidelines, Andrew Medlar, president of the Association for Library Services for Children (ALSC), stated, “ALSC strongly encourages families to visit their public library and take time to talk with youth services staff about their digital media usage and literacy needs. Developing a relationship with local library staff leads families to rich experiences and customized, informed decisions on digital media use, a sounder option than relying on one-size-fits-all online recommendation tools.”

So how can libraries adapt to this new message of balance?  Key messages from the revised guidelines that are relevant to early learning in libraries include:

·         Role modeling is critical. Librarians can use media in early learning settings to model appropriate use for parents and caregivers.

·         We learn from each other. Brain research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. Adopting the Public Library Association (PLA) and ALSC’s Every Child Ready to Read best practices of Talking, Singing, Reading, Playing, and Writing into early learning programs at the library helps model for caregivers that “talk time” between caregiver and child is necessary for language development—and that screen interactions should be active, not passive, viewing.

  • Content matters. This is a natural for librarians to promote within and outside of their buildings to parents and caregivers. By definition, librarians are content curators—which leads to the point below:
  • Curation helps. With hundreds of thousands of apps, ebooks, and downloadable media available in today’s digital world, a little curation geared towards the younger set and their parents can go a long way. Create top 10 lists of staff’s favorite apps, ebooks, or media sites that offer interactive and engaging opportunities for families to enjoy together.
  • Co-engagement counts. According to AAP, “co-viewing for infants and toddlers is essential.” Librarians can practice giving elevator pitches to early childhood teachers, caregivers, parents, and other staff members as to why talking to young children, and engaging with media together, is vitally important to their brain development and growth.
  • Playtime is important. While media in moderation is OK, it should never take the place of some good old-fashioned playtime. Libraries can offer open-ended, play-based early learning sessions to model the value of play to parents and caregivers.

The new guidelines also complement ALSC’s recent white paper on Media Mentorship, offering libraries ways to act as guides for parents and caregivers in the ever-growing, ever-changing world of screens and all things media—in moderation, of course.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.

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