What’s actually going on with young children and screens? According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 64% of babies between 1 and 2 watch TV and videos for slightly over 2 hours daily and estimates of how much time preschoolers use screen media is between 2.2 hours to 4.6 hours a day on average.
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under 2 not watch TV. In 2011, the Academy updated the recommendation to limit the exposure of children younger than 2 to any kind of screens, citing the lack of evidence there’s educational benefit (despite educational claims by game makers) and potential developmental negatives. Children benefit most developmentally from sensory-motor play and social interaction, not touching a screen or pushing buttons that light up and ding.
In my experience, TV and screens (tablets, phones) are what occupies/calms kids when they’re grumpy/overly demanding at a bad time/need to settle down from high levels of activity. To say this is “bad” isn’t really going to change much of anything. Saying, “Don’t” is kind of like Prohibition: it may be right but it just doesn’t work. 18 month olds in my office scroll through an iPad like a pro.
I could say “No screens under 2,” which many of you would think is the right thing to say. But I’m pragmatic, and recognize the reality of what’s going on. Given that children are using screens, it’s important to think about how to do it. Research is new and it varies, but some basic guidelines are helpful.
What do parents need to know? Here are some important ideas:
In this electronics-driven world, we need to carefully balance children’s developmental needs with the lure of technology as entertainment, education and babysitting. There are real reasons for caution - there are already some 4 year olds being treated for addiction to screens. Children are using screens at a younger and younger age, so parents have to carefully think about what they do and don’t allow.