Screens are bad for babies and toddlers; stop selling, and buying, products designed for them

by Bob Sullivan on December 10, 2013

Yes, this really is for sale at Fisher-Price.com.

Yes, this really is for sale at Fisher-Price.com.

Let’s make one thing completely clear: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 live as much of a “screen-free” life as possible.  Not only does the academy discourage giving kids gadgets to stare at, it also discourages screens as background noise, a bit akin to second-hand smoke.   Screens interfere with normal playtime and many suspect that barely-formed infant brain development can be damaged by the mesmerizing artificial lights and sounds.

No, there isn’t great data on the poisonous impact of screens on babies, and for good reason. No one in their right mind would allow a study to examine it, because some children would potentially be harmed by it. That alone should tell you something.  But since the Academy first issued that warning back in 1999, there have been *some* studies that found:

  • Children under 2 who watch more TV or videos have “expressive language delays.”
  • Children under 1 who engage in “heavy TV viewing” have a “significantly higher chance of having a language delay.

It’s astonishing that Fisher-Price is selling a  ”Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity” baby seat, which suspends an iPad above a baby in an infant seat.  The sale has attracted plenty of negative attention, and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has started a campaign to get the seat recalled. Good.

But parents everywhere, many overwhelmed and desperate for a few moments’ reprieve, innocently hand smartphones and other screen gadgets to their toddlers and even babies all the time. Why?  Many young parents I’ve spoken to have no idea screens might harm brain development. Sure, they’re not proud of it, but many think it’s relatively harmless.

Where is the public health campaign around the potential health effects of screens on young children?  There’s a lot of financial reasons to maintain the perception that screens don’t harm kids.  Nearly every arm of the tech industry has something to lose — television programmers, chipmakers, phone makers, software makers…you get the idea.

I’m not crying conspiracy.  I doubt anyone in these industries wants to harm children. But whenever it’s in no one’s interest for information to become public, that information usually stays in the shadows. Hopefully this incident will serve an unlikely public service campaign.

The babysitting TV phenomenon is disturbing enough, but with older kids, there are programs worth watching, and sensible people can argue over sensible limits.

Here’s a few guidelines from around the world, courtesy of MedScape:

“The US Department of Health and Human Services now cites reducing ST (screen time) as one of its key ‘health improvement priorities’ in achieving its ‘national 10-year health promotion and disease prevention objective’: ‘to increase the proportion of children aged 0 to 2 years who view no television or videos on an average weekday, and increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 years through 12th grade [18 years] who view television, videos, or play video games for no more than 2 hours a day.’ The Australian Department of Health and Ageing has issued similar guidelines, as has the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), adding: ‘media—both foreground and background—have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years.’ The Canadian Paediatric Society has gone further, ‘No child should be allowed to have a television, computer or video game equipment in his or her bedroom.’ The French Government prohibits French channels from airing all TV programs—educational and otherwise—aimed at children under 3 years of age.”

But there isn’t much to be debated about two-year-olds and screen time.  Don’t give in. Don’t give them your phone. And for Heaven’s sake, toy makers, don’t make things even harder for parents by confusing the issue.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Martin Sickafoose December 10, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Unfortunately there are too many parents who will think this is perfect to babysit their kids. Maybe we can just start duct taping our extra iPhones to my baby’s head for around the clock access.

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