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Experts Update Screen Time Recommendations for Infants and Toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released its long-awaited update on electronic media use (sometimes called \”screen time\”) and children. The report, entitled “Media and Young Minds,” seeks to answer the question of whether or not infants and young children can benefit from screen time and, if so, what is the appropriate amount of screen time by age group. Before this update, the AAP advised that children under age 2 should have no screen time at all, which meant no iPad, no phone apps, no TV, no screens, and no personal learning devices. However, as electronic media becomes ubiquitous and educational apps explode in both number and intended target, parents often struggled to follow this advice.

The new guidelines have been under consideration for almost a year. In designing them, the AAP had the difficult task of studying electronic media and how, if at all, it benefited young minds. After all, we know from solid research that babies and young children learn well when presented material in three dimensions and can become overwhelmed when presented material on a television screen. So how have the new recommendations changed? Here are the updated guidelines:

From birth to age 18 months, the AAP recommends avoiding digital media with the exception of video chatting with family or familiar faces. A few minutes interacting with grandma across the country is fine, but a parent should be there to help the toddler understand what they are viewing and guide the experience. Other than video chatting, the infant and young toddler should not be exposed to screens. Apps or other digital content that claim to be educational have not been proven to aid learning.

Beginning at 18 months up to age 2, research suggested that, when used alongside a caregiver, some educational apps can support learning.  The recommendation is no more than one hour per day, alongside a caregiver. No handing your iPad over to a toddler for use alone! When you\’re not watching them, all televisions and digital media should be turned off.

From ages 2 to 5, one hour of screen time each day is appropriate. Again, the AAP recommends working alongside your child, choosing high-quality content such as apps developed by the Sesame Workshop (i.e., Sesame Street) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), because those have been shown to increase learning in children aged 3-5 years. Interestingly, digital books (ebooks) were found to be detrimental to learning when their interactive graphics were too distracting. Parents were encouraged to interact with their child in the same way they would when reading print material to have the best educational outcome.

Many of the general recommendations remained the same. Digital media-free zones, including bedrooms, as well as electronic-free times such as mealtimes are included. Parents are encouraged to separate themselves from electronics as much as possible and are reminded that background TV decreases both parent/child interaction and free play by children. Screens should be turned off one hour before bedtime because decreased sleep is a documented side effect of screens.

The AAP’s new interactive Family Media Use Plan is available at: www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan. The plan is free and helps families determine what, if any screen time is appropriate by age.

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