Our most recent lunchroom discussion was a lively one. I asked the doctors and nurse practicioners to read and comment on the new Academy of Pediatrics recommendations regarding screen time in children younger than 2 years of age, and they came ready to comment. Before we got into the specifics of the AAP recommendations, we talked about our own childhoods with regard to TV and screens. I discovered that Dr. Riley grew up completely without TV. Her only exposure to TV was during visits to her grandmother’s home. The oldest doctors, Dr. Plonk and myself, were newborns around the time TV was invented. Can you believe it! These families had one black and white TV in the master bedroom, somewhere where children rarely ventured. All of their TV viewing was special occasion viewing such as a space launch, the death of a president, or a Disney special broadcast. The much younger nurse practicioners recall having fairly strict screen time limits. Anne Gessner remembers running through the house to shut off the TV as she heard her parents approach in the garage. Melissa Davis’s parents were both teachers and severely limited access to TV. None of the providers had a TV in our rooms, and everyone felt that we were better off without it. TV time would have meant less time playing outside, building forts, playing dress up and school, building models or reading. Exactly what the AAP says.
Next we discussed the specifics of the AAP statement which the group was in agreement with. Many of the providers, including myself, were interested and surprised to discover that new research says that not only is screen time NOT useful to children under 2 years of age, but that it is harmful to their language development. We were also interested in the notion that even background TV alters a child’s language development. Very interesting.
In a world full of screens, we realized that both parents and pediatricians have many challenges in front of them. Parents must limit screen time, both foreground and background types, especially for their very youngest children. They need to resist using a TV as a babysitter, and they need to be actively engaged in the viewing of TV for their older children. Getting down on the floor and having unstructured play is the best stimulation for young children. And let’s not forget reading to children of all ages. It was our opinion that reading to children is absolutely essential for good cognitive development. Doctors have the challenges of discussing the subject of limiting screen time in an otherwise busy agenda of a health supervision visit. We need to do a better job helping families come up with strategies to limit screen time and of reinforcing reading, outside activity, and unstructured play. Let’s get started, shall we?
For more on these subjects check out the following Pedcasts:
Episode 15: Playground, no parents allowed
Episode 1: Screen time, How much is too much?
Episode 23: Starting Young Children toward a Life of Literacy