When the American Academy of Pediatrics originally advised against TV for kids under 2 in 1999, they were doing so based on the Precautionary Principle: the idea that this might cause harm and had no known benefits. Their policy was met with what pediatrician Ari Brown describes as “a lot of screaming”. The resistance came from the industry— people who were creating media for babies and toddlers—but it also came from parents, who were dependent on the TV to give them a break from active parenting so they could take care of other things.
People complained, where’s the harm? People also didn’t take the recommendations very seriously, as it’s now estimated that 90% of kids under 2 watch 1 to 2 hours of television a day.
Those early recommendations were based on limited research. But by now, the AAP has had more than a decade to review over 50 studies on the effects of television on small children. And the results have only strengthened their original position. Their new policy, released today, unequivocally advises against ANY screen time for babies and toddlers under age 2.
What’s so bad about screens?
From the new AAP policy:
Many video programs for infants and toddlers are marketed as “educational,” yet evidence does not support this. Quality programs are educational for children only if they understand the content and context of the video. Studies consistently find that children over 2 typically have this understanding.
Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media. Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play. Free play also teaches them how to entertain themselves.
Young children learn best from—and need—interaction with humans, not screens.
Parents who watch TV or videos with their child may add to the child’s understanding, but children learn more from live presentations than from televised ones.
When parents are watching their own programs, this is “background media” for their children. It distracts the parent and decreases parent-child interaction. Its presence may also interfere with a young child’s learning from play and activities.
Television viewing around bedtime can cause poor sleep habits and irregular sleep schedules, which can adversely affect mood, behavior and learning.
Young children with heavy media use are at risk for delays in language development once they start school, but more research is needed as to the reasons.
The guidelines don’t address interactive media, but I have to wonder what that might be doing to kids’ brain development. Does the screen/real world confusion extend to screens that a kid can make move? The videos of babies pinching and swiping the pages of magazines and tossing them away in frustration are funny, but they also show some serious things going on in the young brain. What does it mean that a child learns to interact with real matter as if it were a digital interface?
I always try to think of AAP recommendations from a public health policy standpoint. This is a national organization dedicated to what’s optimal for children’s health and development. They’re trying to combat a major marketing machine selling parents the idea that media is actually good for babies and toddlers. We live in a world where almost one-third of children have a television in their bedroom by the age of 3, a statistic I find shocking and kind of gross on multiple levels.
The circumstances in any individual family are variable. The reality of many parents’ lives just don’t allow for optimal choices for our kids all the time. When thinking about how to apply this policy to your family, you might want to keep that in mind.
Will the AAP recommendations change how you parent?
See the full presentation below: