Update: The United Nations' World Health Organization has issued its first-ever guidance on how much screen time children under 5 should get: It recommends no screen time for babies under 1 year old, and no more than one hour per day for children under 5. "Okaaaaaaaaaay," replied parents everywhere, wondering if the World Health Organization will watch their kids while they take a shower/make dinner/answer that important call from work. In all seriousness, when the American Academy of Pediatrics issued similar guidelines, TODAY Parents asked parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa about those times when it IS acceptable to use screen time to avoid a tantrum. Here's her (very reasonable) response.
It’s understandable why the American Academy of Pediatrics, in its most recent guidelines, urges parents to stop handing our kids a screen in response to a tantrum. It makes sense, because kids need coping skills. If we hand them a screen every time they're unhappy — just like if we hand them chocolate every time they're unhappy — we're setting them up for problems in the future.
But parents live in the real world, and sometimes we don't have it all together. And every once in a while, a screen is actually the best thing for your child.
1. When you're the one having the tantrum
The truth is, sometimes it's the grownup who's losing it in the moment. We're bigger, and stronger and yell louder. So, if an adult is at the very edge of control, it's much safer to let a child be distracted by a screen than to let them become the focus of our anger or bad behavior.
2. When you're keeping a promise.
If your child is using screen time that you already agreed to but is having a tantrum because something isn't going quite right — the internet connection won't work or the game keeps glitching or you don't have the video you thought you did — you don't have to turn off the screen entirely. Finding another screen option in that moment is just fine. That teaches problem-solving. If you notice that your child often has trouble regulating his emotions around technology, that might be a sign he's getting over-stimulated. Which is a good reason to think of reducing screens in his life, but it doesn't have to be right this minute.
3. When it affects other people.
One of the things we have to consider as parents is our impact on those around us. Occasionally we're on a bus or plane, or in another crowded public place and others are stuck there with us. If they can't escape, that's a totally reasonable time to quiet your child by whatever legal, ethical means you can.
4. When they're a danger to themselves or others.
If your child is so out of control that they are in real danger of causing physical harm to you or themselves or someone nearby, that would be a time that a screen is definitely the better of two not-good choices. If your child often ends up physically violent as a part of a tantrum, this is worth talking to your child's doctor about because you might need some more management strategies.
Most of the time our kids are better off if we can teach them to manage their emotions through interaction with us. But resilience shows up in all kinds of different forms. And occasionally that form is Daniel Tiger on YouTube.
This story was originally published October 24, 2016.