Babies and toddlers should learn from play, not screens

October 18, 2011

BOSTON -- The temptation to rely on media screens to entertain babies and toddlers is more appealing than ever, with screens surrounding families at home, in the car, and even at the grocery store. And there is no shortage of media products and programming targeted to little ones. But a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there are better ways to help children learn at this critical age.

In a recent survey, 90 percent of parents said their children under age 2 watch some form of electronic media. On average, children this age watch televised programs one to two hours per day. By age 3, almost one third of children have a television in their bedroom. Parents who believe that educational television is "very important for healthy development" are twice as likely to keep the television on all or most of the time.

The policy statement, "Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years," will be released Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Boston and will be published in the November 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online Oct. 18). Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy, will discuss the recommendations in an embargoed news briefing for reporters at 10 a.m. ET Monday, Oct. 17, at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The AAP first provided guidance on media use for children under age 2 in 1999. This consisted of a recommendation in the Academy's policy statement, "Media Education," which discouraged TV viewing for children in this age group.

At the time, there was limited data on the subject, but the AAP believed there were more potential negative effects than positive effects of media exposure for the younger set. Newer data bears this out, and the AAP stands by its recommendation to keep children under age 2 as "screen-free" as possible. More is known today about children's early brain development, the best ways to help them learn, and the effects that various types of stimulation and activities have on this process.

"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 report set out to answer two questions: The key findings include: The report recommends that parents and caregivers: 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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Reporters attending the news briefing should first check in at the press room, room 151A, at the Boston Convention Center. For a copy of the guidelines or to interview one of the authors, contact the AAP Department of Communications.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit http://www.aap.org.

American Academy of Pediatrics

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