In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a strong recommendation for parents to avoid TV for children under the age of two. The AAP admits that this policy was based on limited data and was a precautionary measure, and 12 years later they’ve revisited their guidelines with the new data now available. Dr. Ari Brown, lead author of the policy, presented it earlier this week.
This video is long, but I highly encourage you to watch it through the Q&A at the end. As I watched the beginning, I was encouraged that the AAP was making this revision taking into consideration the reality that 90% of kids under age two are watching some form of screen media and that they were asking if the media use does any harm (because they know you’re gonna do it…).
What follows, though, is hardly different from the 1999 recommendation. They still strongly urge you not to expose your babies and toddlers to TV, with guilt-inducing phrases like missing parental “talk time,” language delays, and “time well spent.” There’s a fair amount of doubletalk in this presentation. They understand you can’t be engaging with your kid every second of every day, but won’t you please try?
OK, I’ll admit that I’m thankful for the original guidelines that I followed to the letter when my daughter was born because it broke me of my habit of leaving the TV on when no one was watching it. When I let her start watching Yo Gabba Gabba at 18 months, I did it because I thought it was a cool show and I wanted to watch it with her. Since then, as you may remember, I learned how to stop worrying about screen time.
Cut to baby number two. Baby number one is now a six-year-old. How often is he in a room as a TV plays Phineas and Ferb or SpongeBob SquarePants? Um, a lot. I’d love to give him the independent play Dr. Brown recommends but at the moment that means that I find my 17-month-old at the top of the loft bed ladder. We have times in the morning when he sits on my lap to watch YouTube videos while I answer emails and catch up on Twitter and Facebook. And with a Mommy who makes games for little kids to play (showing my bias here), he has access to lots of little screens. If he had the disposition to be gentle with it, I’d let him play with the iPad, too. He’s a thrower, though, so he has to wait.
This may be a good time to mention that the AAP recommendation does not take into account any interactive media. Seriously?! A lot has happened in the last 12 years! Not all screen time is created equal!
At the end of the Q and A, Dr. Brown acknowledges, when pushed to describe most people’s reality, that people will expose their young children to screens (hilariously the instance she gives is the Superbowl, because you know that’s the only rare occurrence when it might happen):
We want parents to thoughtfully consider media use when they’re choosing to allow their child to be exposed to it. We discourage it in under age two because we don’t find the value and we have some concerns about harm.
If you ask me, this is the line that should shape the policy as it’s described to parents. Stop trying to make parents feel guilty and give them concrete guidelines to shape the media usage. I’m fine with trying to get people to reduce their screen time or turn it off as background noise, but they could add helpful tips like:
- Pick programs or apps geared towards the youngest viewers.
- Music is great for this audience.
- Look for things that don’t have a lot of edits or close-ups but that show things in a more tangible form.
- When it’s possible, co-view a program with your child and talk about the things that you’re seeing.
That’s just my list. I’m sure we could come up with many more. Maybe with a little instruction about how to use media effectively for all ages, the AAP could reverse some of the harm they’re worried about.
On that note, I’m going to leave you with one of my 17-month-old’s favorite videos on YouTube. For your co-viewing pleasure, try pointing to the pigeons! Talk about big and little bears! Count the people walking? If you’ve watched this as much as I have you start coming up with all sorts of possibilities.
What are your thoughts on the AAP policy? Will you follow the AAP guidelines?