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First Kids, Now Parents Need to Limit TV Use According to AAP Report


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its first formal media use guidelines for parents in 1999. Of the many suggestions, two that were heard most loudly were that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any television media while those over two should be limited to a maximum of two hours of screen time per day.


This week the AAP has produced an update to the original report, and this time not only is it warning about the use of television with young children, it also tells parents that what they are choosing to show on television for their own use may still be affecting their children.


Ironically, this report that cautions parents even more firmly about the use of media with children under two arrived on my desk on the same day as a media release for a gadget that allows parents to mount an iPad to their infant's stroller. "While your child is busy watching a video ... parents are free to run errands, shop, go for a walk, whatever. Meanwhile, our little one stays entertained or educated or both, for up to 10 hours..." After this excited sentence, the media release advises parents that leaving a child in a stroller that long is "just cruel."


The fact is there is more temptation than ever to use a glowing screen to keep your child occupied and distracted. And while all this convenience appears to come at a much cheaper cost than a babysitter, according to the AAP, your child may be paying the price in the long run.


Titled "Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years" the policy statement focuses on three areas. The first asserts that there is little hard evidence to support either educational or developmental benefits for media use by children under 2 years of age.


Researchers have confirmed that some high quality programs can offer educational benefits for children over 2. Yet, it is unproven that younger children can learn anything at all from TV shows and videos. Noting that, "three-quarters of the top selling infant videos make explicit or implicit educational claims," the policy paper asserts that in order to benefit from such videos infants need not only be able to understand the program, but have the ability to pay attention to it.


Going further, the AAP notes that two studies of Sesame Street have shown a negative effect on language development of children under 2, and that leads to the second focus point of the paper -- that heavy viewing of television may actually delay language and social development of infants. Outside of educational television, three studies since 1999 have indicated children less than 2 years who are in homes where heavy television use is evident have expressive language delays. In addition, children less than a year old who are frequently put in front of the TV and are watching alone have a "significantly higher chance of having a language delay."


In regards to other problems, there seems to be a correlation between television viewing and developmental setbacks, but the AAP notes that current results cannot prove this with certainty until more research is done.


Finally, and possibly the most enlightening aspect, the AAP is identifying "Secondhand Television" as yet another negative factor. The term refers to homes where the television is constantly on and becomes the "background media" for children even though the TV may be the "foreground media" for adults.


This situation can cause the obvious problem of a child being exposed to media that is far from appropriate. However the AAP notes there are even more concerns that involve the parent being distracted by television and not communicating regularly with their child. In these situations children are being denied the opportunity to develop natural language skills that occur when they interact with mom and dad. Other negative results show children play differently when the TV is on, even if the program is not intended for them to watch. They will stop to look at the TV show and often halt their current activity and move on to something else after the interruption.


Some critics of this latest report attest that the AAP is out of date, and that TV is yesterday's media. There are two issues with that rebuttal. First, it will take years for social scientists to begin generating the first studies of the consequences of handing your iPad to your stroller-bound child. Longitudinal studies that follow subjects over a period of time can take a decade to complete. Second, recent surveys still show the television is king of the media toys in the average American home. While tablets, smartphones and other devices are moving in on TV's turf, the device still racks up the highest hours of recreational media use per day for the vast majority of people.


Once again we are reminded that moderation is the key. Some educational choices and appropriate entertaining selections, hopefully with a generous helping of mom or dad on the side, can create a TV diet that is suitable for the over-2 crowd. Just remember to turn it off when you're finished, and if you have a new baby in the home, wait for bedtime before relaxing in front of the tube.

Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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