On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) released new recommendations that parents should limit how long children under the age of 2 spend in front of television, computers, so-called educational games and even shows for grown-ups that are on in the background. Some 90 percent of parents in a survey said their under-2-year-old child watches some form of media, be it TV or an iPhone app. But children that age get no educational benefits from screen time, whether it be on the new blue screen TV or an iPad, and such leaves them less time for good old-fashioned playing and interacting with people.
The recommendations, announced at the AAP’s annual convention in Boston, are actually less harsh than those announced in 1999. Then, the AAP called for an outright ban on children under 2 watching TV and wanted to require all parents to fill out a “media history” at visits to the pediatrician.
Parents have expressed outrage. It’s not that anyone feels that great about parking one’s child in front of the TV to watch a video, but one does have to shower, sit down for a few moments, answer a pressing email, make dinner (or find the number to call out for pizza). Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik surveys the responses and concludes:
In the end, I take pronouncements like the AAP’s like I take so many guidelines for parenting: as Platonic statements of an ideal that I will continually fall short of. I implement them—like parents do advice about food, sleep, discipline, &c.—using a combination of half-informed memories of newspaper clippings, my even less-informed gut feeling about what feels like common sense and my hazy memories of how-they-did things-when-I-was-a young-’un-and-I-turned-out-fine.
That gut feeling tells me that it’s naive to treat electronic media as if they have no effect, and useless to take the absolutist stance that they’re the digital equivalent of cigarettes. My kids would have been fine without any TV in their early years. They also would have been fine without cake.
Poniewozik’s concern is to teach his kids (aged 7 and 10) to be active, rather than passive, consumers of TV; to be “as smart media consumers as well as smart readers.”
Part of the reason the AAP is recommending limited TV/screen time for children under 2 (keeping in mind that we live in a world of screens, counting TVs + computers + iPods + iPads + Gameboys + ads in stores etc.) is that children that young are not yet able to discern fantasy and fiction from reality and are still in the early stages of developing language. For every hour that a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she is spending 50 minutes less time interacting with a parent and about 10 percent less time in creative play. The New York Times also points to recent research that “makes it clear that young children learn a lot more efficiently from real interactions — with people and things — than from situations appearing on video screens.”
The AAP’s recommendations may not need to be followed to the letter, but are a call to parents to be at least a bit aware of how much TV and screen time the very young (and the slightly older) children are spending. TVs, iPads and the like are here to stay — on the other hand, childhood obesity now affects 17 percent of children and is on the rise. Sure kids are going to have their screen time but they need just as much to have time to play with the wooden blocks and (depending on the weather and where you live) as much time outside as possible to play, be it riding scooters, big wheels or bikes; climbing on playground equipment; or just going for a walk.
Should kids under 2 not watch any TV or be exposed to computers, iPads and the like? (After all, even if they don’t, they’re sure to make up for lost time as adolescent and teens dependent on their tech devices.)
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