Media time for kids: Use it wisely as well as sparingly

Is your toddler already swiping across your smartphone, FaceTiming with family and friends, and confusing Siri with incoherent questions?

Tired of wrestling it away for fear that screen time could hinder the child’s development?

Parents, take a sigh of relief. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has new guidelines for media use among infants and toddlers.

First released in 1999, the AAP’s initial recommendations for media use advised parents to avoid screen time for children under 2 years old. After reviewing the latest research about media use and its potential for educational benefit, the AAP recently issued a new set of guidelines with a key update: If parents choose to introduce screen media to a child between 18 and 24 months of age, they should watch along with the child.

The AAP suggests toddlers in that age category may benefit from high-quality, educational programming — if an adult is watching with them. To facilitate learning, parents are encouraged to reteach the content to their children and put it in a real-world context. For example, if you are watching a television program with your child focused on colors, ask your child to identify those colors in his or her surroundings. Social interaction with an adult, the AAP points out, is critical to helping children develop cognitive, language, motor and socio-emotional skills.


For children younger than 18 months, the AAP stands firm on its recommendation of no screen time, with one exception: live video chats. While there is no evidence that infants benefit from FaceTiming with family and friends, research has shown that 2-year-olds can learn words from video conversations with responsive adults.

Starting at age 2, the AAP recommends no more than an hour each day of high-quality programming, such as an educational program like “Sesame Street,” until a child reaches age 5. Again, caregivers are encouraged to co-view with children and help them understand the concepts presented in the programs watched.

The one-hour time limit is supported by evidence that links excessive media use with a higher risk of obesity later in life. In a recent study of 2-year-olds, researchers saw an uptick in body mass index (BMI) for every hour of media watched weekly. Excessive television viewing during early childhood years continues to be associated with developmental delays.

There is no denying the positive role that media use plays in our lives. It can connect, educate and entertain us. But for the youngest among us, who are undergoing rapid brain development, media use can also be damaging. During this critical period, unplug and connect with your children through traditional play and learning activities that stimulate their young minds.

Dr. David Jones is the Chief of Pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. A graduate of the Medical College of Virginia, Jones completed his pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.