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An Update On Screen Time

NPR Ed is updating some of the top stories we've been following in 2014.

This year we took a new look at screen time — and the argument over whether it's good or bad for kids. We explored what the research revealed about screen time, how schools are using devices in the classroom and its social implications.

We've seen many ways that media can have a positive impact on kids and learning. Mr. Rogers used his TV show to instill values and teach lessons in our country's youngest audience. And through Daniel Tiger, Fred Rogers' focus on social and emotional learning continues to reach a whole new generation. As classrooms and teachers get more connected, using apps and media in and out of school, our view of screen time is changing.

The long-standing recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics has been that kids' entertainment screen time be limited "to less than one or two hours per day." And for kids under 2: none at all.

But those restrictions may also be evolving. In October, the AAP debated the recommendation at their national conference, a sign the organization may be reconsidering their strict stance.

"We don't want to risk appearing so out of touch that we're irrelevant and people won't take our advice seriously," says Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician on the AAP Council on Communication and Media.

That same month, Zero to Three, a nonprofit research organization focused on infants, toddlers and their families, published Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. The report summarized existing research and encouraged child-adult interactions. Screen time is most effective when adults and children use electronic devices together, it said. Slate reported that the recommendations, "could make way for new approaches and push 'screen time' to be much more than an electronic babysitter."

"Let's face it: Raising children turns our hair gray no matter what," writes Lisa Guernsey, director of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative, in Slate. "But at least it moves us from a 'no screen time' recommendation, that few parents abide, toward 'mindful screen time' in today's media-manic world."

So as children throughout the country unwrap those tablets, phones and video games, we have time to reflect on how all this screen time really influences our children and us. There is no definitive set of rules — the research and our perception is evolving.

And after a year of reporting, one of our biggest takeaways is simply that screen time is situation-based. As researcher Patricia Greenfield told NPR Ed's Cory Turner, "It's all about how things are used. And how much they're used. And what they're used for."

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Elissa Nadworny
Elissa Nadworny is an NPR Correspondent, covering higher education.