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Doctors advise parents to keep under-2s “screen free”



The American Academy of Pediatrics has confirmed its 1999 recommendation that children under the age of 2 should be kept as “screen free” as possible, with unstructured play favored over electronic media as the best way to develop young brains.

The AAP’s original recommendation came at a time when “educational” videos and TV programming such as the Baby Einstein series were at the height of their popularity, and it set off a heated debate about the best ways for very young children to get a head start in learning a language and developing visual motor skills.

The latest policy statement, which was released at this week’s AAP National Conference, recognizes that the temptation for parents to rely on screens to entertain babies and toddlers is greater than ever. It quoted a 2007 survey in which 90 percent of parents said their children under 2 watched some form of electronic media. There is also an abundance of products and programming specifically aimed at this audience, perpetuating the myth that somehow these products are important for healthy development.

Although the AAP admits that little research had been carried out at the time the earlier guidelines were issued, more is now known about children’s early brain development and the effect that various types of stimulation and activities can have on this process. For example, it’s now believed that heavy media use can delay language development, cause poor sleep habits, and decrease parent-child interaction, which is critical for a constructive learning environment.

“The concerns raised in the original policy statement are even more relevant now, which led us to develop a more comprehensive piece of guidance around this age group,” said Dr. Brown, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.

The AAP offers the following advice for parents and caregivers of very small children:

  • Set media limits for their children before age 2, bearing in mind that the AAP discourages media use for this age group. Have a strategy for managing electronic media if they choose to engage their children with it;
  • Instead of screens, opt for supervised independent play for infants and young children during times that a parent cannot sit down and actively engage in play with the child. For example, have the child play with nesting cups on the floor nearby while a parent prepares dinner;
  • Avoid placing a television set in the child’s bedroom; and
  • Recognize that their own media use can have a negative effect on children.

The report also recommends further research into the long-term effects of early media exposure on children’s future physical, mental and social health.

According to Dr. Brown, “In today’s ‘achievement culture,’ the best thing you can do for your young child is to give her a chance to have unstructured play—both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works.”



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