How much time should kids spend with digital media? Screens are everywhere: pervasive and attractive. Many parents adopt strict rules limiting or banning screen access with television, video games, tablets, and smartphones. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has devised a new approach and published an online tool to help families and children.

The U.S. pediatricians group has developed a Family Media Use Plan. The new AAP approach combines education, engagement, and management. “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP. “What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”

The AAP’s recommendations include creative playtime without digital media for infants and toddlers. High-quality programming with educational content, such as offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS can have educational merit starting around 18 months, but the AAP recommends that parents watch with their children to help them understand what they see on the screen.

The Family Media Use Plan comes into play with kids in school, through adolescence, using an approach similar to adult time management programs. The online tool lets parents set up profiles by name and age and then allocate specific numbers of hours per day for all activities, such as sleep, school, chores, homework, family time, meals, outside play, video games, and television. The AAP also recommends establishing media-free times, such as meal time, and media-free locations such as bedrooms.