On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their policy and made a statement which, once again, discouraged television for children under age 2. As someone who creates and delivers content for children, it’s always important for me to know where I stand when new research emerges or statements like this are made.
So what did I make of the AAP statement?
What I found was that impressions I got from how it was reported (and how it flew around Twitter) weren’t always the same as what I got from the words of the AAP themselves. For example, much of the reporting talked about ‘screens’ like all media and all content is equal. I’ve tackled this here before – all screen time is not equal. Playing an interactive Sesame Street app is not going to have the same effect as sitting them in front of The Exorcist, for example.
But, in this conference, the AAP aren’t lumping all screen time together.
I did find the text of the early press release a little more vague and guilty of lumping ‘screen time’ together, possibly the reason for the rather basic reporting on it. But the actual content of the conference?
It’s about television.
Their statement is mainly about television. They even go as far as to say that there may be some benefit to interactive media. Bear in mind that ‘may be’ is a long, long way from ‘is’ and much product is pushed as being educational – they might well be but are the results really there? In this statement, the AAP are refreshingly honest about what they don’t yet know.
On television, the focus of this statement, the AAP discourages TV before the age of 2. Discourages – they recognise the world we live in and how that’s not always easy (if you have older children, for example).They have found no benefit in children too young to understand what they are seeing, while finding benefit in other activities that simply don’t take place when they’re watching TV. This seems to be just common sense. If they sit watching a box of what is essentially (to them) flashing colours for an hour rather than figuring out how to dismantle a dog toy or how to get dad’s attention or how to force a large figure into a tiny car from a whole other playset, well, they’re missing out.
That’s not about guilt. I’m a parent. We’re all about the guilt and TV Guilt is something we parents do just fine on our own. Guilt isn’t their job – that’s what our mothers are for!
The AAP discourage background TV. TV is distracting and its content should be an active choice. Forget about under twos – we could all do with keeping this in mind!
They encourage talking about media use and limitations – again, making an active choice.
They value free play and talk time. Fantastic. We all should. Watching children discover cause and effect as they use objects, there can be no doubt as to the value of that. And, by the way, I include some media devices in there too – it’s amazing how quickly children can figure out how a phone works, or a computer. And of course talk time is important. Not always easy, but important. Otherwise, your daughter may get most of her language from TV like one little girl I know who greeted me the other day with, “Do you see the Daddy? When you see Daddy, shout ‘Daddy!’” Oh, there’s that TV Guilt kicking in…
Lastly, the AAP encourage more research into all of this and the long-term effects. As would I.
So, as someone who makes children’s television, where am I on the AAP statement? I’m all for it. Everything in it makes sense. Let’s embrace it, keep parents informed and encourage active choices in content for children.
And keep the research coming.