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.

The reality, of course, is that sometimes you just need get the laundry done or get dinner on the table, so you need a way to occupy your baby or toddler. While you’re taking care of the business of life, try some of these non-screen activities that can occupy and optimize their brain development:

  • When you need to make dinner, hand your toddler a box of uncooked macaroni and a big serving spoon. He’ll have a grand old time moving the noodles from one pot to the other (and even sorting out the shapes, if you put in different ones).
  • When you need to pay the bills, sit at the kitchen table with him and give him some playdough or a coloring book.
  • When you need to take a shower, place a dishtub of water on a towel on the bathroom floor and have your child wash a baby doll.
  • When you need to fold laundry, have her help by picking out all the socks and put them in a pile, or “fold” washcloths.

As your child grows older and becomes ready to benefit from screen media, here are some ideas on ways to manage it wisely.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely, The Mediatrician®

2 thoughts on “What does the new AAP policy say about screentime for babies?

  1. I find it hard to believe that you would recommend uncooked macaroni noodles for toddlers. It would be a great activity for an older child, however this would definitely present a choking hazard. 

  2. i may be overly sensitive, but boys play & girls fold?  dont think so!

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