TV for Kids Under Two: Pediatricians Revise TV Ban

So television is not the evil step-cousin of spanking, infant cough and cold meds or allowing babies to sleep on their tummies. 

Not anymore.  Not this week.

Back in 1999 The American Academy of Pediatrics, the popo of parenting, banned television for kids under 2 in an effort to persuade us that plopping infants and toddlers in front of any screen would turn them fat, stupid and surly.  Now lest you shut off all electronic babysitters thereafter, then you probably aren't all that surprised to learn tv and the like aren't so awful. 

Not that they're so great.

Actually there's not much evidence either way. 

More accurately there's plenty of research.  It's just that the bulk of it tends towards the correlational with a good dose of minor "effects" and mixed results.  Thankfully the AAP recently had the good sense to realize it.  Instead of an outright ban the organized pediatricians now "discourage" it.  The No TV has turned into more of an admonition than decree.  Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years 

Surely I'm not the only parent with the recurring fantasy of heaving the device-of-the-moment out the window or alternately moving to the country without wireless access or cable? I get the earnest pleas for unplugging, the dearth of unstructured time.  Absolutely.  Amen.  Sign me up for that initiative. 

But remember the worry about screen-time dragging kids from more valuable developmental opportunities? I worry about it myself, sometimes.  But get a load of this nugget buried in the renovated AAP statement:
Does television displace more developmentally valuable playtime? No research exists at this point to know whether a child would find better things to do with his or her time if all screens were turned off, although evidence suggests that the child would hear more adult speech and talk more. Heavy media use is defined as the television being on always or most of the time. Heavy media use may be a sign of parenting style, so one cannot assume that parents will spend developmentally nurturing time* with their child with the television off.
So we think tv deprives kids but we're not sure of what and though we can speculate it might involve hearing mom and dad yap.  Of course it might be mommy yapping on her Blue Tooth.  Or daddy trying to get a hold of someone in India who can solve the mysteriously disastrous Microsoft updating monster that wrecks havoc with the lap top every few months. 

Oh, the nature thing too....TV keeps kids inside, prevents them from running around the yard?  Um, no.

Heavy media use in a household does not seem to affect the amount of time a child of any age plays outside.
It's a grey world out there but for better or worse the AAP does think they know something for certain. 
What is known is that unstructured playtime is critical to learning problem-solving skills and fostering creativity. 
Yes and thus a full day at school followed by a soccer game, an hour-plus of homework, piano practice, writing thank you notes for the birthday gifts they don't need, then baking the cookies for the school fundraiser and helping fold laundry also doesn't leave much time to just hang. 

Oh yeah and and the required 20 minutes of reading that will also be logged into the journal and then verified by an adult.

In fact, a short stint of the tv or Tiny Towers doesn't look so bad in comparison. 

You can download the new policy statement for free at Pediatrics but please consider the amount of developmentally nurturing time actually reading it will cost your children.

Pretty good write-ups on the new policy around the web: 

     The New York Times - Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest
     Science Daily -  Babies and Toddlers Should Learn from Play, Not Screens

Here's the press release.

Of course many websites and blogs have translated the new policy into NO TV for kids under 2 side or TV only harms, doesn't help kids -stepping any subtleties of the new message.  Go figure.

Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years, Pediatrics, published online October 17, 2011.
doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1753


Awesome Mom said...

It is nice to know that the tv the younger kids saw because I was letting the older ones watch something will not turn them into sociopaths.

I am seriously cranky about the whole infant cold medicine thing, not because I gave it to my infants but it also removed my ability to give it to toddler and preschool aged kids. It seems like they went a bit overboard on that one. I think kids are more at risk for getting over dosed by ignorant parents that grab the older kids stuff and just give that.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

No, no one is turning into a sociopath because of tv! Or videogames. You and I are on the same page with the cold meds - did a lot of posts on the ban. And you're so right, the reason so many kids overdosed was preschoolers helping themselves - and to a smaller extent, adults giving incorrect doses. Those meds may be ineffective or have side effects but they haven't sent many to the ER with propoer usage.

Alice Callahan said...

Your point is well-taken, and in fact, reading your piece made me wonder if I should have questioned the AAP more in my own piece on this. The problem is always the same with public health messages: Simple ones are more effective than complex ones - but I still believe parents have a right to an honest portrayal of the data. No, there is no causal data on early TV watching and developmental delays. But I think that if the AAP is going to take a stand on TV, then they've taken the right one. I think what should be emphasized from this report is that there is no evidence that so-called educational programs targeted to kids under two make your kids smarter. I also thought the data showing that background TV affects kids play - shortening their play time and making it less focused. That's important for parents to know, even though we don't know if that difference is developmentally important.

Also, remember that this recommendation is just about the under 2 set - babies and toddlers. For kids older than two - the AAP recommends limiting screen time (including computers, iPads) to 2 hours per day, which seems pretty reasonable.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey Alice! Good points all. I hear you on the simple public health messages and even those, well, get ignored in the rush and biases of daily life that is anything but simple.

As for the lack of educational value, there's not a lot of great research as you know. But neither is there much if any evidence of harm (i.e. disrupted play). Again like so many other parenting issue, it's a matter of moderation. Can't imagine small amounts of "early" tv make any difference in a kid's life.

Also, there's a large confound here -the parents whose young children sit in front of tvs for hours a day. Any number of factors involved in their
parenting strategy/behavior likely contribute to outcomes in tv studies.

The studies showing a tv in the room disrupts play are interesting but as you point out who knows about long-term consequences.

BTW, where's your piece on tv? Can you give us a link?

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey again, Alice - didn't recognize your name! Love your new site Science of Mom!