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

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.

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