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How Much TV Does Your Child Watch? Managing Your Child's Electronic Media Habits
Young children are being exposed to numerous forms of electronic media at an ever increasing rate, raising concerns about the impact of media exposure on children's social, emotional, and behavioral development.
In 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported  that 47% of babies and toddlers ages birth to one watch TV or DVD's for an average of two hours per day, and there are TV's in the bedrooms of 29% of children under 2 and 42% of children under 8. Children under 2 spend almost twice as much time watching TV and videos as they do reading books. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  reports that because of the ever-expanding media formats available today (TV, cell phone, computers, etc.) the average child now spends more than 7 hours per day engaged with some form of media.
Too much passive 'screen time' has been associated with various problems, including irregular sleep patterns, higher rates of obesity, behavioral issues, focus and attention problems, and decreased academic performance. A key area of concern about excessive media interaction is the impact on a child's play. Play is to a child as work is to an adult, and it is one of the most critical pieces of a child's intellectual, social and behavioral development.
At the same time, technology and media have allowed many children, including those with significant disabilities, to learn important new skills even though they did not respond to previous interventions. It has assisted dual-language children acquire important language skills and made it possible for non-verbal children to communicate with their caregivers. Children with special needs are also able to learn vital adaptive skills with new technologies.
For example, the staff at Child Development Resources Infant-Parent Program is having success using iPads to provide interventions for infants and toddlers who have significant physical limitations. Touch screens require less strength and coordination to interact with than 'traditional' therapy devices, allowing children with limited mobility to learn important concepts like cause/effect in a way that maintains the child's interest and are inherently rewarding and fun to the child. There are numerous apps available (many of them free) that parents can also download to their phone, meaning that they can have a therapy tool on hand for their child all the time.
So if media and technology can be beneficial or hurtful depending on how it is used, how should a caregiver manage their child's exposure to media? The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center of Saint Vincent College released a Position Statement in January 2012 called, "Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8"  and point out that the most important step is for caretakers to limit media exposure to very young children, and recommends that parents encourage as many media-free activities as possible.
In November 2011, AAP recommended that media never take time away from creative play and that "pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of two years" and children over two should have "less than two hours of screen time per day." Media exposure for older children should involve media that is interactive, rather than passive (such as TV). It is strongly recommended that the caretaker always participate in media activities with children of any age to see how children interpret the media and to clarify anything the child may not understand.
Media is obviously here to stay, so NAEYC and AAP issued these guidelines to ensure that caretakers manage children's media exposure, so that it is educational and beneficial.
1. Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America. Common Sense Media/Kaiser Family Foundation, 2011. www.commonsense.org/research
2. HealthyChildren.org, "Guidance to Help Families Make Positive Media Choices", referenced 4/9/12
Paul Scott, MS, CSOTP is the Executive Director at Child Development Resources, which provides early intervention services to infants and toddlers in the Historic Triangle including Part C, Parents As Teachers and Early Head Start. The CDR First Steps Child Care and Development Centers are NAEYC Accredited programs.