Stories about: kids and tv

What does the new AAP policy say about screentime for babies?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a revised policy on media for kids two and younger. The recommendations for this age group are much the same as they were in 1999—that it is best for their developing brains and bodies to avoid both screen use (such as placing a toddler in front of a TV or video) and background media (such as leaving the TV on in the same room where a baby is playing)—but there is new scientific evidence to support these recommendations. An infant’s brain triples in volume in the first two years of life and research suggests that brain development during that time can benefit the most from:

We already knew that newborn brains develop in response to whatever is in their environment. New research from the past 12 years suggests that interacting with people, exploring the physical world (like stacking blocks or “reading” board books), and playing in open-ended ways are great for that development. And no matter how “educational” their content, screen media can’t provide that kind of environment.

That said, screen media aren’t toxic for babies—they’re just not really what they need. And other kinds of media, like music and books, can be great for kids of this age group. The updated AAP policy statement also recognizes that there are good screen media options for preschoolers, whose brains have developed to the point where they can learn from electronic screens.

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The dangers of SpongeBob

A study released yesterday says that watching SpongeBob may be bad for kids.

This is terrible news.  My 6-year-old son Liam loves SpongeBob.  He will be devastated (and quite possibly hate me forever) if I tell him he can’t watch it anymore.

In the study, researchers from the University of Virginia took 60 4-year-olds and divided them up into three groups. Each group did a different activity for 9 minutes. One group drew with markers and crayons. Another watched a PBS cartoon about “a typical US preschool-aged boy” (I’m guessing it was Caillou). The last group watched SpongeBob. They didn’t call the show by name—they referred to is as “a very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea.”  Yep, SpongeBob.

After the 9 minutes, they did tests on all the children that measured “executive function.”  Executive function includes skills like paying attention, controlling impulses, solving problems, organization, or adapting to new situations. These skills are crucial for success in school and in relationships—really, for success in life.

The SpongeBob kids tanked.

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Children's in the news

The New York Times reports on the state of federal incentives for doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic medical records and notes the long-range vision of computerized patient data is what health care specialists call a “learning health system.” Children’s Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, speaks to obstacles to such a national computer-enabled learning system.


The Boston Globe reports on the challenges parents are facing as they try and reduce the amounts of television their children watch. Children’s Michael Rich, MD, MPH, comments on how stressful it is for parents when they need to change their children’s television viewing habits.


MIT Technology Review reports on a new study by Children’s William Bosl, PhD, and Charles Nelson, PhD, which analyzed the electrical activity in infants’ brains to predict early on which could be at high risk of developing autism.


Children’s Kimberly Hall, MS, CCC-SLP, speaks with WCVB-TV Channel 5 about stuttering in a segment that highlights how the movie “The King’s Speech” is helping debunk some misconceptions about the diagnosis.


Claire McCarthy, MD, speaks with Reuters Health about a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that for the first time offers guidelines from the AAP on treating kids’ fevers with over-the-counter medications.

______________________________________________________ reports on new research from Children’s Charles Berde, MD, PhD, and collaborators that finds patients given a new local anesthetic derived from algae experienced less postoperative pain and recovered about two days sooner than those given the commonly used local anesthetic.

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Is there anything wrong with letting my 18-month-old watch the episode of Sesame Street that he loves?


Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he discussed what to do if your child imitates inappropriate dance moves.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: I am the mother of a very active 18-month-old little boy who loves one particular episode of Sesame Street. Other than this one particular episode, he does not watch TV and for the most part, he’s uninterested even if the TV is on. My question is, although I know children under 2 should be discouraged from watching TV, is it harmful for him to watch Sesame Street? This program does not have any commercials and seems harmless. Please let me know your thoughts; any information is much appreciated.

Uncertain about Sesame, Norristown, PA

A: Dear Uncertain,

Pediatricians recommend limiting screen media before the age of 2 because young children learn little from screens.

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