American Academy of Pediatrics Lifts Rule Banning Screen Time for Children Under Two

The guidelines change the focus from screen content to caregivers present in the room

Girl Using Tablet Computer / American Academy of Pediatrics Lifts Rule Banning Screen Time for Children Under Two
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October 21, 2016

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidelines regarding screen time for children to say that children under two can have it—as long as there is a caregiver present and involved.

The Academy first issued its "no screens before age two" policy in 1999. It updated and revised the policy to reflect new research and new habits that have developed since that time.

The new policy—particularly in cases of very young children—changes focus from the content on the screen to who else is present with the child. This raises some interesting questions regarding the future of using media in education.

The new guidelines are as follows:

For Children Younger Than 18 Months

Zero screen time is still the best option for these tykes except in one instance: live video chat. Surveys have shown that many families already believe that "Facetime doesn't count" or that the benefit of visiting relatives virtually outweighs the possible cost of exposing children to laptops or phones.

The Academy cites no positive evidence that infants actually benefit from this type of "conversation" like they obviously do from live social interaction. However, there is some observational research that indicates that babies as young as six months engage emotionally when playing live peekaboo with a relative on Skype.

For Children Ages 15 Months to Two Years

A couple of very small studies have provided limited evidence showing that children in this age group can learn new words using educational media, but if and only if parents or caregivers watch with them and repeat the words of the video or otherwise draws attention to the content. It is best, in other words, to treat media such as videos or apps like picture books.

On the other hand, numerous studies have shown a correlation between poorer language skills and an earlier viewing of so-called "educational" videos with no one else present and interacting. Research has also shown the occurrence of language delays in children who watch more television and begin watching earlier than others. In both of these instances, the problem seems to be in allowing media to replace social interaction. It is for this reason that the Academy changed its guideline from "avoid all screens under age two" to "avoid solo media use in this age group."

For Children Two Years to Five Years

There is more evidence that children in this age group are able to transfer knowledge from a screen to the real world, including skills in early literacy and math as well as positive social and emotional skills and behaviors.

It should be noted, however, that the Academy strongly prefers certain brands of media for these children. Sesame Workshop and PBS, it states, are two trusted producers of educational media for children based on evidence, while few out of an estimated 100,000 "education"-branded apps in the iPad store have satisfied high learning standards.

The Academy recommends no more than one hour per day of screen use for children in this age group. And it encourages caregivers and parents to participate in screen time for these as well as the younger children.

"Coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them," it says.

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