The AAP recently changed its recommendation for limiting screen time for kids younger than two, to under six (six?!). While the research does point to the downside of too much screen time for young kids, is it that simple? Do the same rules apply to kids being glued to the TV versus engaging in learning play (such as with an interactive app)? Entertainment-only videos, versus videos designed to teach new skills?
According to the Council on Communications and Media, “new media use is not without its benefits, but these benefits largely depend on a child’s age and developmental stage, a child’s characteristics, how the media are used (e.g., with a parent or without), and the media content and design.”
What does this mean for babies, toddlers and preschoolers?
From-the-Crib Digital Natives
Birth to 2 years
Studies have shown that reading aloud to babies promotes social and emotional development well beyond babyhood. Pediatricians have long recommended parents start right from birth. The AAP even states that kids can benefit from digital media starting at around 15 months. And by the time they reach the age of two, many kids can learn words from video chats and word-learning videos.
When you do decide to introduce kids to apps, the key is human interaction. According to the AAP Media and Young Minds Policy, “Children younger than two years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills.”
So for your two-year-old to benefit most from educational apps and videos, it’s important to pick high-quality content and enjoy it together. Read and watch along. Talk about what you’re learning and reteach the lessons later. Make sure the apps you choose are simply designed and distraction-free.
2 to 6 years
It turns out that digital media is great for kids under six—but not all content is created equal. According to the AAP Media and Young Minds Policy: “High-quality TV programs (e.g., Public Broadcasting Service [PBS] programs, such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) can demonstrably improve cognitive, linguistic, and social outcomes for children three to five years of age.” Preschoolers who consume PBS content in apps and games, like Big Bird’s Words and Cookie Monster’s Challenge, benefit even more.
So, in addition to enjoying videos and apps together, pick educational content. Research, for instance, suggests that switching from videos that feature violence and other less-than-positive elements to educational and pro-social content leads to significant improvements in behavior.
A Balanced Screen-Time Diet
While the AAP recommendation on limiting screen time for kids under six is important, it’s not the only factor to consider. What’s most important when introducing your child to digital apps and videos, is that they don’t displace playtime, facetime, sleep or studying. To set the right limits for your family, it might help to stick to a few guidelines, like these from the AAP:
- Make a family media use plan to keep screen time manageable
- Set limits and encourage unplugged playtime
- Co-view, co-play and co-engage as often as possible
- Prioritize”talk time” over passive screen time
- Limit digital media for kids under age two
- Create tech-free zones such as the bedroom or dining room
- Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier
Check out the complete guidelines here and happy digital exploring!