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Use Extreme Caution: Electronic Media with Children Under 2 Years

By Nicholas Long, PhD
UAMS Department of Pediatrics & Arkansas Children's Hospital

Surveys have found that 90 percent of parents report their children under 2 watch some form of electronic media. Young children's use of portable media devices has become so commonplace that it is hard to go out in public these days without seeing a very young child using a parent's smart phone, tablet or other electronic device.

Parents typically report using media devices with their young children to help occupy, entertain or educate them while the parent is busy doing other things. What impact is this having on our youngest children? Are there recommended guidelines for parents?

In spite of advertising claims, the educational merit of media programs for children younger than 2 years is unproven. While there is evidence suggesting that some media programs can have a beneficial effect on older children, this is not the case for children under the age of 2. Studies have typically found a negative impact (for example on language development) or no benefit at all for children under the age of 2.

Also important to note: The frequent use of media can also take away time and experiences that are important opportunities for young children to learn critical interpersonal skills. So what do the "experts" recommend? After careful examination of this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken the position that media use by children under 2 should be discouraged.

Parents also need to be keenly aware of how their own media use impacts their young children. About 40 percent of families with young children report that their television is "constantly" on. When you also consider the use of smart phones, tablets, computers, and other electronic devices, it becomes clear that excessive media use by parents can be a major problem.

Perhaps what is most important is the negative impact heavy parental media use has on the amount and quality of interaction parents have with their children. For example, infant vocabulary growth is directly related to the amount of time parents spend talking directly to their infants. So remember to consider turning off the television, smart phone, computer and other electronic devices and devote more time to media-free playing, interacting and talking with your young child. The benefits will last a lifetime!

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