Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Baby Behavior in the News: AAP Releases A New Policy Statement on Media Use and Babies

By Jennifer Goldbronn, MAS, RD

In today's world, screens are everywhere. Entertainment and games, once restricted to television sets, are carried with us in our pockets, backpacks, and handbags. It is easy to turn to TV, games, and mobile devices when we want to be distracted or entertained. What about our babies? Is media exposure a good idea for babies?

In a previous post, we talked about media targeted to babies and how the Disney Corporation pulled Baby Einstein videos off the shelves because the advertising claims that the videos would enhance development were not supported by research. Almost 2 years later, a new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows that media viewing by kids under 2 years of age, even educational media, not only has no benefits but can be harmful.

The new policy statement, released just last month, replaces the 1999 statement on media use in which the AAP first strongly discouraged screen time for children under age 2. However, recent data show most children under 2 watch 1-2 hours of media per day.

While your little one may stare at the TV in wonder at the colorful characters and catchy songs, a key finding of this report is that usually only children over 2 have the understanding needed to gain any benefits from “educational” programs. New information also shows adverse effects of media use. TV viewing near bedtime can negatively affect your child’s sleep and heavy media use delays language development.

The AAP also reported that parental media use in the same room where a child is playing has adverse effects on the child. While your child may not be watching your program, the TV distracts you from interacting with your child. The background noise also interferes with his own learning from whatever activity he is engaging in.

Wow, with televisions, games, and media everywhere - what are parents supposed to do?

What your child’s developing brain does need

In order to learn and grow, your child needs healthy interactions with three dimensional humans, not two dimensional TV or computer screens. Interacting with others, especially with you, allows your child to learn communication skills, develop healthy emotional connections and figure out how the world works. As parents, we use our facial expressions to communicate our own emotions to our babies. We also connect with our babies by reflecting their emotions of excitement, sadness, etc. as they show them to us. That’s how babies learn about the important connection between facial expressions and emotions. If we then talk to our babies about what they saw or felt, we help them connect feelings and words together. These vital connections must be learned from other human beings, not from watching people on TV. For more about how babies learn about their world by watching their caregivers, click here and here.

It’s also essential to provide your child with unstructured playtime with limited distractions so that he can learn creativity, problem solving, and reasoning. Bonus: he will also learn how to entertain himself!

Limiting Media in the Real World
While the AAP recommends no media use for kids under 2, this group also understands that real life interferes with the best intentions at times. In those cases, they gave the following tips to keep in mind:

  • If you choose to have your children view media, set limits as to how much and stick to them. (Remember, screen time includes computer, TV, Iphone, gaming devices, laptops, etc.)
  • If you are going to have TV on during the day for yourself or other children, try not to keep it on in the background all day. Set limits for viewing certain programs and then turn the TV off.
  • If you need time to take care of a household chore child-free, set up a safe, independent activity for your child where you can see him that will engage him for a short time. You can still interact with your child and talk about how you’re measuring ingredients or engage him in talk about what toy he is playing with as you unload the dishwasher, for example.
While limiting media in your home may be challenging, look for creative ways to make it happen. Most importantly, remember that your baby's brain is hardwired to learn best from his interactions with you in full color, 3D! There's no greater teacher for your baby than the real-world you!

For more information:

Need more ideas for entertaining your baby? Read a past post here.
For a video of the AAP press release of the policy statement, Media Use by Children Younger than Two Years, click here.


American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. AAP Council on Communications and Media. Pediatrics 2011;128;1040.


  1. I really feel that the AAP is not helping anyone with the policy. They're quick to the "no" without adequately providing the "instead". All this policy will do is make patents feel guilty about having their babies around any media and then lie to other parents and pediatricians about it. The AAP needs a major rebranding: too much of their policy shames instead of supporting parents.

  2. We understand your frustration. Apparently, the AAP believed that the data were strong enough that they needed to move forward with the recommendation even if alternatives weren't at hand. This is a tough one...but our readers probably have alternatives. Any advice out there for someone who is really trying to limit their baby's media exposure? Let's be realistic - let's say that there are other children and family members in the home. What has worked for you, our readers?