Research Says… Balance Screen Time for Toddlers
As a pediatric SLP who specializes in treating very young children birth to three years, I field lots of questions from moms and dads who’ve read or heard that TV and other screen time (including apps on a phone, games on the iPad, and watching a DVD in the van) isn’t recommended for toddlers.
Has your pediatrician mentioned this to you during well-checks? If not, you can take a look at the policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics here. The gist of it reads:
“Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.”
While some families are able to take that advice and unplug, others aren’t yet ready to make that HUGE lifestyle change.
That’s when the questions come…
“Well… how much TV is too much?”
“A few games every day on the iPad won’t hurt, right?”
“That doesn’t include educational shows or apps, does it?”
Or the outright denials…
“My kids watched TV all day and they turned out fine. I just don’t believe that stuff.” (True story… as relayed to me by a Developmental Interventionist as after she talked to a grandma about turning off the big screen while therapy was going on…)
A recent Canadian study might lend some advice for parents who aren’t ready to ditch technology for their youngest children. This research found that toddlers who watch three hours of TV a day are more likely to struggle with learning. If you want to read the article yourself, here’s the link.
On a more positive note, children who watched up to two hours and 52 minutes of television per day were unlikely to experience any negative consequences according to the study.
Perhaps this may be the “balance” for educators and other professionals looking for “real life” recommendations for families.
In time it may turn out that a little exposure to screens occasionally, or even daily, won’t result in poor outcomes for young children. In this study, toddlers who routinely watched a couple of hours a day were deemed to be fine.
However… it still makes me wonder if this information applies to kids that we see in early intervention. The study didn’t include children who already struggle with learning.
Children with delays in development as toddlers are obviously at more risk for experiencing learning issues later on, and excessive screen time may contribute to exacerbate an existing problem.
While some professionals feel that the jury is still out on this issue and that there is value in introducing high quality shows and educational games, others note that it’s not just the screen watching that’s the problem. When children spend a great deal of time watching television, we know they’re not engaging in the other activities that we know will promote learning.
As a speech-language pathologist, I’m always looking for the things that have an impact on communication skill development. When a child is engaged with a screen rather than a person, he’s missing out on what I feel is the most critical component for learning language… real interaction with another person.
Many times parents opt for screen time for toddlers as a substitute for face-to-face attention. As a mother of three myself, I certainly don’t begrudge a weary mom’s need to shower or to make a phone call. However, when a show or a game or a video routinely replace one-on-one contact between a one or two years old and an adult who loves him, there’s bound to be some kind of consequence. Children primarily learn to talk from hearing other people talk to them.
These reasons make me less likely to dismiss the NO screen time recommendation just yet, but this study may provide some wiggle room for those of us who face these honest questions from parents every day. Now we do at least have a benchmark that helps us determine what amount of for how much screen time does produce produces negative effects for toddlers.
As child development specialists, it’s certainly something for us to continue to watch…but only for a couple of hours a day!
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