My wife and I were in a restaurant having lunch the other day with one of our sons, and couldn’t help but notice a nearby family: a mom, dad, two boys, and a daughter.

The daughter was middle school age, and clearly in contemporary middle school mode:  ear buds securely in place, staring off into space.  Every aspect of her demeanor made it clear: I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be with my family.  So I am going to stay in my world of music and media.

By plugging in, I’m tuning out.

And her mother was letting her do it.

She’s not alone.

Children ages 8 to 18 spent an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day consuming media for fun, including TV, music, video games and other content, according to a 2010 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.  That was up about an hour and 17 minutes a day from five years earlier.

About two-thirds of 8-to-18-year-olds said they had no rules on the amount of time they spent watching TV, playing video games or using the computer.

An even later report from Common Sense Media, a child-advocacy group based in San Francisco, found that 17% of children 8 and younger use mobile devices daily, more than doubling since 2011.  38% of children under the age of 2 were using mobile devices like iPhones, tablets, or Kindles.

The New York Times even carried a story on a new milestone for parents: their baby’s first iPhone app.

So no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a new set of guidelines on children’s use of internet, TV, cell phones and video games, calling for a comprehensive “family media use plan.”  The AAP’s guidelines have been spurred by a “growing recognition of kids nearly round-the-clock media consumption.”

Such excessive media use is associated with “obesity, poor school performance, aggression and lack of sleep,” said Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician and co-author of the new policy guidelines.

The heart of the recommendations? 
Limit the amount of media time for entertainment purposes to less than two hours per day.  Children younger than two shouldn’t have any TV or internet exposure.  Venturing dangerously into parenting territory, they also suggest having a no-device rule during meals and after bedtime, and keeping television and internet-accessible devices out of kids’ bedrooms.

But that means Mom and Dad will have to follow the same rules.

“If you go to any restaurant, Family 3.0 is Mom and Dad are on their devices and the kids are on theirs,” says Donald L. Shifrin, a pediatrician in Bellevue, Washington, and an AAP spokesman.  “Who is talking to each other?”

Apparently, not many.
So let’s state the obvious, and shame on us for needing pediatricians to step in and tell us:

It’s time for families to unplug.


“Pediatricians Set Limits on Screen Time,” Andrea Petersen, The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2013, read online.
“New Milestone Emerges: Baby’s First iPhone App,” Tamar Lewin, The New York Times, October 28, 2013, read online.
“Limit teens’ web access to two hours a day, parents told,” Rosa Silverman, The Telegraph, October 28, 2013, read online.
Image: Flickr