July 22, 2022

UW Health Kids expert helps families manage digital device use

Two new online tools aid in developing good screen habits

Madison, Wis. – With the help of a UW Health Kids adolescent health physician and researcher, this week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched two new digital tools to help parents and families create healthy digital habits.

The updated and redesigned Family Media Plan tool and the first phone questionnaire are free, web-based aids aimed to encourage safe and responsible internet and technology use for families.

Doctors used to recommend two hours of screen time a day for kids, but now we are in an era of smart phones and tablets, and the feedback from patients and families show this rule does not work, according to Dr. Megan Moreno, adolescent health expert, UW Health Kids, professor of pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“The family media plan presents families with different suggestions and options for rules and guidelines that can work for their specific needs,” Moreno said. “The family media plan tool was first launched in 2016 and the re-launch this week has several important updates.”

Moreno is on the AAP Council on Communications and Media and her research was used to provide scientific evidence to construct the updated tools.

Specifically, one study examined the effectiveness of the 2016 family media tool. The study surveyed a parent and child from each participating household, totaling 3,000 individuals, and recorded the rules they picked online and followed up with them two months later.

The research showed that many families picked a lot of rules at the beginning and two months later many had forgotten the rules, or only implemented some but not others, Moreno said.

“We took that information and used the scientific evidence to give better guidance to families in the new tool,” she said. “We now suggest that families pick a few rules and get familiar with them before adding more and update the plan as your kids get older.”

The timing for this updated family media tool is important because the pandemic created even more concerns about screen time for kids and families, according to Moreno.

“We understand kids used their devices to stay in touch with friends and attend school virtually during the pandemic,” she said. “Now we need to find a new balance between the online and offline worlds.”

Another important piece to the family media tool is the new questionnaire around first-time cell phones. It is a 10-question quiz that helps parents assess whether they and their child are ready for the responsibilities.

The question of a child’s first smartphone comes up commonly with her patients, Moreno said.

“There is no one right answer or a single age that is perfect; it is more about how does the kid handle responsibilities and how will they use the phone,” she said. “This new questionnaire for parents can guide them through factors to consider and key measures for the right time.”

The AAP is the largest group of pediatricians in the country with about 67,000 members. UW Health Kids aligns with AAP’s goal to provide the best and most accurate health information about kids, according to Moreno.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics is really the trusted voice of pediatric care in this country,” she said. “Having UW Health Kids represented in both creating the new tools and sharing the information demonstrates our expertise in pediatric research and patient care.”