Babies, Toddlers & Screen time: Interactive vs. Passive Media and the American Academy of Pediatrics

Did you see the October 19th New York Times article with the headline Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest?

Here’s the lead:

Parents of infants and toddlers should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games and even grown-up shows playing in the background, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned on Tuesday. Video screen time provides no educational benefits for children under age 2 and leaves less room for activities that do, like interacting with other people and playing, the group said.

Sounds ominous, right?

This mom’s take-away from the article is not that screen devices are harmful to infants and toddlers (in fact according to the NY Times “there is no evidence that exposure to any of these gadgets causes long-term developmental problems, experts say”). It’s that parents are inadvertently substituting screen time for interaction. In fact, the article explicitly states that “the latest guidelines do not refer to interactive play like video games on smartphones or other devices, but to programs watched passively on phones, computers, televisions or any other kind of screen.”

Developmentally, your infant or toddler needs you to talk to them. They need you to introduce them to the world around them. They need to model your inflection and learn how to correspond facial expressions with emotions. That’s why KneeBouncer games are designed with interactivity — and parent-child co-play in mind.

Your smart phone, tablet device or computer could enhance your child’s development because it provides interactive elements (unlike television, which is largely described by the AAP as passive. As a mom of a toddler that frequently sings with Elmo in the morning, dances around my living room and hangs like Curious George from my banister, I might argue that point, too. However, that’s another blog post). Simulated finger painting on a tablet or an interactive video game that introduces basic concepts of print are great things to make accessible to your child.

While interactive toddler games may not advance your child’s IQ, get him or her a fully-funded Harvard education or result in a perfect SAT score, I firmly believe that exposing your toddler to learning activities on computing devices — which we all use on a daily basis — will help foster a life-long love of learning. {What have you googled today?}

As parents, we are responsible for our child’s media diet, just like we obsess over what our child puts into his or her mouth. As I learned watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, everything in moderation.

Your best bet? Model good media consumption behaviors for your child. Put down the smart phone and have an honest-to-goodness dinner conversation. Make plans for when are where television watching is appropriate. Don’t take a business call when you’re at the playground — run around with your toddler.

When you play a video game with your toddler, co-play. Talk to them. Ask them about what’s happening in the game and react.

It’s all about interaction. And moderation.

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