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The new AAP study (PDF) shouldn’t really shock anyone. Just as they did back in 1999, the group is recommending that kids under 2 stay away from TV entirely. But this study offers up more support in terms of evidence that kids at that young an age really have no idea what’s going on in the shows that they’re watching. They don’t get the context, they don’t get the storylines or the characters — it’s all just weird light on a screen to them, according the AAP.
Dr. Ari Brown is the author of the new study and a pediatrician in Austin. “When TV started,” she says, “there were not very many shows directed toward infants. Now we have infant- and toddler-based programs marketed explicitly or implicitly for educational use. What we’ve learned is kids don’t get it. There’s a digital developmental divide. Under 2, they will not understand content or context. Kids over age 2 do get it. There’s improvement in language or social skills.”
Brown says that beyond not being very beneficial, there are indications that TV for kids under 2 is actually harmful. It disrupts sleep patterns, it hurts concentration skills.
Of course, kids today often don’t have “TV time” as much as they have “screen time” and those screens could mean a TV set, a computer, an iPad, a smartphone, a video game or something else. And many of those screens are a lot more interactive than the regular old TV.
As for the potential benefits or harms of an interactive screen, Brown says the AAP doesn’t have a position on them yet because it’s much too early to have conducted proper research. “It may be that with an interactive program, the child is doing the same thing as with a toy they can manipulate. It may be interactivity that will allow them to learn cause and effect, sequencing, ordering. There may be some real value to that, but we don’t know yet.”
Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, says when it comes to kids and gadgets, proceed but proceed with caution: “We know blocks, we know books, we understand not just what is going on in the moment but also the long-term implications of these things. We don’t know what the long-term implications of an iPad are simply because they haven’t been around long enough. So I don’t think we should block out the unknown, but look at it in terms of short-term responses and say you know what, it seems to me my child is reading the same or better on an iPad than he or she did on a book, so I’m going to do that. But also say, there’s nothing quite like getting a bunch of Legos and putting them together, which an iPad can never do. When reading time is over, turn it off and turn loose on the Legos.”
Also on today’s program, the future will look more like “Back to the Future,” using a car that we think of as being from the past but using a technology of the future.
Let me try that last paragraph again: they’re building an electric DeLorean.