Pediatricians Say No Screen Time for Babies & Toddlers

by Deirdre Wilson

We’re surrounded by media screens –TVs, computers, iPads, digital readers and cell phones – with content targeted to all ages, even the very youngest among us. But the nation’s pediatriciansbaby and tv are now warning against any media screen exposure for babies and toddlers. 

In a recent survey on media use, 90 percent of parents say their kids under age 2 watch some form of electronic media, including an average of one to two hours per day of TV. Indeed, parents who believe educational television is “very important for healthy development” are twice as likely to keep the TV on all or most of the time. 

Armed with this information, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a new policy statement, and it boils down to the idea that there are better ways for kids to learn at this critical stage of their lives. 

The AAP has recommended against screen time for kids under age 2 since 1999. At the time, the pediatricians’ group believed more harm than good would come from media exposure for very young children. Today, there are more electronic media screens out there, and more is known about children’s early brain development, the best ways to help them learn and the effects of various kinds of stimulation and activities on the learning process.

An AAP report that led to this updated policy statement found the following: 

• While many video programs for babies and toddlers are marketed as “educational,” the evidence doesn’t support it. Studies have consistently found that kids under age 2 don’t really understand the content and context of a video. 

• Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media.  

• Young children learn best from – and need – interaction with people, 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 “background media” to the child 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 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 AAP report recommends more research into the long-term effects of early media exposure on children’s future physical, mental and social health.

Posted October 2011