Screentime for Tots: the Pros and Cons

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or screen time for children younger than two years of age. That’s an oft-quoted fact.


But, an article in TIME magazine invites parents, doctors, and academics to re-examine this guideline. Contrary to expectations, the article relates, a recent study found that no screen time at all for infants was correlated with lower cognitive development.


Several alternative explanations could exist for this finding, of course. A lower socioeconomic status would be correlated to both less cognitive development and less screen time, since lower income families have less time and less money. Families in more rural areas might also have less access to both technology and educational resources.


Another study cited by the article found that infant exposure to adult-oriented  media was associated with less cognitive development, while exposure to child-oriented media was not associated with any cognitive outcome. It’s possible that parental attitudes are the key difference here. If adult-oriented media is playing around an infant, who is it for? If the parent is watching, the parent is interacting less with their baby. If the parent has turned on adult-oriented media for their baby, this indicates a lack of understanding of the child’s needs that will affect parental behavior and child development in other ways.


The major question about small children and screen time is context. Is the parent engaged in the media with the children? Is the parent narrating the content, pointing out letters/colors/numbers, and supplementing the media with more information? Or is the screen a babysitter, meant to allow parents to disengage from the child?


Of course parents can not (and possible should not, but that’s a debate for another day) constantly play with their children. However, sitting a child down with a pile of blocks allows the possibility for creativity real-world interaction that a screen just can not provide. Of course, a pile of blocks probably will not entertain a child for as long as a smart phone, and blocks are not nearly as portable.


The TIME article concludes that pressuring parents to keep their infants and toddlers totally abstinent from screens is unhelpful and unrealistic. It’s true our culture is so inundated with technological devices that most babies are fascinated with screens from an extremely young age. However, these studies should make parents on both sides of this issue consider their habits. Are parents who are pro-screen time   presenting their children with the best media and then participating in it with them? Are parents who are anti-screen time taking every opportunity to stimulate their children’s brains?


Ultimately, like every other issue, the question of screen time and young children boils down to parental involvement and balance.


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