Ask Dr. Marla: Are television screens bad for babies?

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on July 23, 2013
In your May/June issue, an article about keeping babies active included the new guidelines for recommended physical activity. The guidelines say that babies under two should have no exposure to television. I’m wondering if there is an actual physical danger to exposure? And are screens really that bad for babies? We have purchased lots of educational DVDs for our four-month-old and he seems to love them.

Answer:

As the National Institute of Health points out, screen time is any time that is spent in front of a screen, such as a TV, computer, or video game player.

In 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its statement that there should be no media exposure in children under the age of two. The AAP believed that there were significantly more potential negative effects of media than positive ones for this age group and, to quote their publication, they advised families to thoughtfully reconsider media use for infants.

Their most recent policy statement reaffirms the 1999 statement with respect to media use in infants and children younger than two years. It provides updated research findings to support it. Their statement points out the lack of evidence supporting any educational or developmental benefits for media use by children younger than two, the potential adverse health and developmental effects of media use by children younger than two, and the adverse effects of parental media use (background media) on children younger than two.

The new guidelines to which you are referring were published by the Canadian Paediatric Society, who also discourages screen-based activities (TV, video and computer games, hand-held devices) for children under two.

The guidelines, titled “Healthy active living: Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescents”, go so far as to differentiate between active play and sedentary play, noting screen time is not recommended for children under two. While you believe your child at four months is enjoying the screen time, experts would advise you to stop watching. These videos aimed at young children do not improve their development in spite of their claims.

Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| July 23, 2013

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