More than 30% of U.S. children first use a mobile device while in diapers, says American Academy of Pediatrics

Family relaxing in bed together

Updated parental guidelines are needed to help make informed decisions about the use of technology by children, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, as it revealed that more than 30% of U.S. children first use a mobile device while still in diapers. The AAP says that “digital life begins at a young age, and so must parental guidance.”

The Academy says that its existing policy statement was actually drafted before the first iPad was launched. A two-day symposium held earlier this year generated twelve key messages, based not just on limiting screen time but also on distinguishing helpful from harmful use of technology … 

A number of key messages for parents emerged from the AAP Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium. Among them is that 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.

The AAP said that the quality of the content was more important than either the medium or the amount of time spent in front of a screen. If the content was educational, it didn’t matter whether the format was a paper book or an app viewed on a tablet. It did, however, say that limiting screen time was still important – and not just for kids.

Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

The full list of messages to parents can be found below.

Photo: Huffington Post

The following key messages for parents emerged:

  • Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.
  • Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  • Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.
  • We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  • Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality (Hirsh-Pasek KPsych Science2015;16:3-34Google Scholar). An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media ( that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
  • Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  • Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.
  • Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?
  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context.
  • Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  • Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain aberrations, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviors.

Digital life begins at a young age, and so must parental guidance. Children who are “growing up digital” should learn healthy concepts of digital citizenship.

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  1. PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

    Talk about “making a dent in the universe”.

  2. That is so sad of a statistic. I know that when I have children, I’m going to limit their use of technology growing up. Sure is technology, good, yes, but so is alcohol, but alcohol is good in moderation, as is technology. I know that my children, will not be using technology while in diapers. and once they are out of diapers, they will have limited use. I want my children to go outside and play, be creative and have an imagination, not sit cooped up in the house all day gluing their faces to screens.

    • Trendon Ellis - 7 years ago

      When you have children? Try again after having them. with Tablets specifically designed for early learning, and being constantly surrounded by smartphones and iPads, in car DVD players(still mobile, right?) and any number of other devices – saying that you will not let your child will not use technology while in diapers is a little shortsighted, especially having, as it would seem by your post, no experience yourself. Technology will be an ever present part of anyone’s life being born in this day and age and to limit their exposure completely would leave them stunted in the use of these devices moving forward. Of course I don’t think kindles should be glued to children’s hands any more than I think I should have been glued in front of televisions, but tablets, and technology in general, will be a major source of education, entertainment and social interaction for the rest of their lives. While I commend your desire to affect your theoretical child’s development, I would maybe focus on teaching moderation, for instance my 2 year old child gets to watch educational programs for an hour or so a day after his nap, and he can use his kindle(kids edition) to play, again, educational games for short periods. This does not stop me from taking him outside to play, or from playing with friends. The real issue, I think, is that parents can become lazy and reliant, letting these devices parent for them. Sorry if I seem defensive, i guess i am.

      • r00fus1 - 7 years ago

        Each kid is different. I have 3 – first one was 3 when the orig. iPhone came out. My younger ones don’t spend as much time as my first used to on the family iPad. All TV/tablet/phone usage activity is supervised – we watch what they do and discuss with them on the topics/themes. Mostly they use them to watch videos or play educational games.

        What really matters is your involvement. Doesn’t matter too much what you’re doing together, but you must be there for your kids (even if it means multitasking while cooking dinner).

  3. I would bet, when the printing press was first invented, there were people saying how sad it was that kids have their first interaction with books while still in diapers (or whatever kids wore in the 1370s in Korea/1440s in Europe).

  4. I make sure I’m wearing a diaper whenever I use my mobile devices.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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