Media Exposure and the Youngest Minds

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The one year old sat with the iPad and watched Sesame Street while his mother quickly finished some household chores before they headed to the park. The mother felt a bit guilty about having her son watch his show. She had heard the recommendation that children under the age of two years old should not watch any media. Still, it did not seem like small doses were really doing any harm to her son.

For many years, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) advocated no media exposure for children under two years old. While the no media message was a simple one to remember, most parents quickly realized that is was not realistic. Now the AAP agrees and has released new guidelines. These acknowledge that it is a digital world and not all digital media is the same.

The main concern about young children using and watching digital media is that it will supplant other activities that are so important for child development. Infants and toddlers need to have time to be physically active, experience hands-on activities, and receive face-to-face interaction. When those experiences are limited, children’s development can be delayed.

In addition, the benefits of digital media can be lost with children who are under 18 months of age. Infants and toddlers at this age lack the ability to fully understand the content they are being exposed to and thus do not learn from it.

Another issue that arises is that media use can negatively impact infants’ sleep. Infants who are exposed to media later at night typically sleep less. Infants who have not slept well tend to be irritable the next day.

AAP Media Recommendations

The AAP now recommends that children under the age of 18 months to not have any media exposure with one exception. The exception is using videoconferencing software such as Skype and Google Hangouts. Videoconferencing still allows for the infant to interact face-to-face with other people, like their grandparents, and establish social connections.

Between 18 to 24 months of age, the AAP recommends adding up to an hour per day of high quality digital programming. These programs include Sesame Street and other shows on PBS. When children are watching these shows, parents should watch with them. This allows parents to help their children understand what they are seeing and how it can apply in the real world.

Overall, the AAP concluded that for very young children, digital media use has limited benefits. Most benefits that have been found typically require a parent to use or watch the media with their children.

The AAP recommends that families use their family media plan interactive tool. It is located on their website (https://www.healthychildren.org). The tool encourages families to think about what their goal is for using media. In addition, families need to consider how much time children should be spending on various media devices and what other activities they should be engaging in.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Tuesday on November 1, 2016

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