For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised parents of children ages 2 and younger to avoid exposure to screens, be it TV, computers or mobile devices. The reasoning was that young minds are still developing and aren’t ready to process an understanding of a 2D world versus a very real 3D world.
That hasn’t changed in spite of the AAP’s recently announced new guidelines, which allow for some screen time with parameters. Authors of the paper Media and Young Minds still advocate “hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills.”
John Hutton, M.D., a pediatrician and researcher at the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says, “The landscape has changed for how kids are growing up, and there’s a lot of confusion on what’s good for them.” Hutton says kids younger than 2 are dependent on back-and-forth interaction while pointing out the problem that with screen-based media is that it’s one-way and doesn’t allow for response and feedback.
At the same time, pediatricians are aware of the pervasiveness of digital media. “Ideally,” says Hutton, “kids younger than 2 interact with a loving parent all day, every day.”
Pediatricians and the AAP admit that keeping devices and TV away from babies and toddlers is not an easy task for parents in busy moments. But quick media dips are not going to hinder your child’s development as long as you set a few guidelines to keep devices from always being the go-to solution.
In some ways, Hutton says, the AAP’s guidelines have tightened. Kids younger than 18 months should be restricted to just video-chats when it comes to screen time. The 18 – 24 month range is what he calls “the new gray area.” Interaction with adults is crucial to child development at this age. So if you’re going to let your toddler watch TV, make sure you first choose what the AAP calls high-quality programming. Sesame Street is a good example touted by the AAP.
Second — and this is what makes up the core of the guidelines — is to make sure you watch with your child, so ti becomes an engaging experience. Kids need adults to guide them, and that happens through conversations about what is seen on the screen.
“Co-viewing can blunt the effects of TV,” says Hutton, adding it gets kids away from a passive, one-way style of viewing to a more healthy approach that involves dialogue with a trusted adult.
Hutton also advises parents to be mindful of their own digital media use as kids look to them for role modeling. It’s also a good idea to not focus on restrictions when it comes to screen watching, but instead encourage kids on things they can do, like go outside, read books, play with real toys and use their imagination for games. “Make room for formative, rich, multi-sensory experiences with your kids,” he says. Those experiences are connections all parents can feel good about.