Screen-Free for the Under-2 Crowd?

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  • The American Academy of Pediatrics just released a new policy statement encouraging parents to keep kids “screen-free” until they’re 2 years old. The AAP doesn’t have enough data to directly comment on kids’ use of digital media, but they’re erring on the side of caution and advising limited computer and device use as well. The statement says “there are better ways to help children learn at this critical age.”

    The AAP released this statement partly because there are many people who believe TV and digital media are critical to education and healthy development. The study maintains that babies and toddlers learn more from human interaction than from screens.

    As parents and educators, we’re aware of this. But we know it’s not realistic to keep a child completely screen-free until they turn 2, especially when there are dinners to cook, clothes to wash, beds to make and work to do.

    So what’s a well-meaning parent to do?

    Set time limits: Instead of simply turning on the TV or handing your kid an iPad, set aside a block of screen time once a day where the child can play or watch. The length of time is up to you, but 1/2 hour is a good general rule. Kids under 2 have a hard time making choices, so you’ll want to select the show or app ahead of time. Make it very clear that you will be turning off the TV or device within a specific time frame (ie “when The Wiggles say goodbye,” or “when the game ends.) Make sure that you’re able to finish whatever you’re doing in that time period.

    Choose wisely: All TV shows (and apps) are not created equal. Look for cartoons with fewer colors and less “flickery” animation. Blue’s Clues, Caillou and Bob the Builder are all good choices. Avoid shows geared towards older kids, which tend to be much more stimulating and much faster paced.

    Pick toys that foster independent play: Have lots of options for your child after screen time is over. Choose toys with some structure that still allow for imaginative play without constant supervision. Soft blocks are a great choice as are cars and trucks with tunnels, sketchbooks and crayons, and sortable or stackable items. A set of shakeable musical instruments can provide an exciting (if noisy) 10 minutes.

    Designate a “screen room:” The portability of devices today makes it easy to take entertainment from room-to-room, potentially increasing a child’s screen time. Set aside a single room of the house to be the “screen room” and allow your kids to watch TV or use devices only in this room. A den or family room is a good place for this, not a child’s bedroom or playroom. Put most of the books, games and toys in other rooms so your kids (and you) won’t be tempted to put the TV on in the background as they play.

    While human interaction is best, it’s important to be realistic in how you approach kids’ use of digital media. If you establish reasonable rules around screen time and spend as much time as you can engaging with your kids, you’re doing it right.

    3 Responses to “Screen-Free for the Under-2 Crowd?”

    1. “…especially when there are dinners to cook, clothes to wash, beds to make and work to do.”

      What a lame excuse.

      Basically we still haven’t reached a mature understanding of the (real) interactions and the role of media within our lives. New media, same old naïveté. The only difference’s being that we should not feel guilty of having the iPad play the nanny role that once was the TV’s, because “This is different, it’s interactive”

      There’s plenty of academic evidence on the negative impacts on language development, cognitive development, and attention capacity of kids that were exposed to TV when infants. The iPad, or the computer, are no different from a TV (in this instance) for the simple reason that they are no different for a baby of 6 months, 12, 24 (and probably more).

      – Chonchaiya W, Pruksananonda C. Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta Paediatr 2008; 97: 977–82.

      – Linebarger DL, Walker D. Infants’ and toddlers’ television viewing and language outcomes. Am Behav Scient 2005; 48: 624–45.
      CrossRef,Web of Science® Times Cited: 33

      – Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA. Children’s television viewing and cognitive outcomes: a longitudinal analysis of national data. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2005;

      – Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, DiGiuseppe DL, McCarty CA. Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics 2004; 113: 708–13.

      and so on

      No screen time under 2 years old is a very good rule.

    2. Debra Gelman

      Hi Kurren —

      I agree, no screen time for kids under 2 is a very good rule. I just don’t think it’s a realistic one. It’s important for parents and educators to be aware of the implications TV and digital media have on their kids, but the prevalence of TV screens in malls, at friends’ homes, and even in doctors’ offices makes raising toddlers with no exposure to screens an almost-impossible proposition.

      I do disagree, however, that interactive applications are “no different” from TV. We haven’t seen any longitudinal studies on how interactive media affects kids, but we know that apps geared towards specific developmental stages can help teach and reinforce behavior. Kids at 8 months are starting to learn about cause-and-effect; interacting with a touch screen can help solidify this concept for them. Kids at 12 months are expanding their fine-motor skills; manipulating objects on a screen can help those with delays improve these skills. And kids at 24 months are experiencing an explosion of language skills; interactive apps can help increase their vocabulary.

      I agree that human interaction is the most valuable interaction kids under 2 can have. But I also believe that all screen exposure is not created equal, and that parents can make wise and well-informed choices if they’re unable to completely eliminate screen time from their under-2s.

      Thanks for starting the conversation! I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on these topics.


    3. Pretty insightful. Thanks!