U.S. pediatricians call on parents to keep children away from television, videos until their second birthday. 

Vancouver Sun, Wed Oct 19 2011, Page: B1 / Front, Section: Canada & World, By: Elizabeth Lopatto, Dateline: NEW YORK, Source: Bloomberg And Agence France-Presse

Children under the age of two shouldn’t watch television or videos because studies suggest it may delay their development, including the ability to talk, according to an influential group of pediatricians. Instead of allowing infants to watch videos or screens, parents should talk to them and encourage independent play, said the first guidelines issued in more than a decade by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The advice that no children under two should watch a screen was first issued in 1999 by the American Academy of Pediatricians. Today, the group, which is meeting in Boston, reiterated its recommendations based on the introduction of numerous screen devices and a decade’s worth of new studies on the negative effects of TV on learning, thinking, language skills, mood and behaviour.

Children learn more from play and interaction with people, the doctors said. “The concerns raised in the original policy statement are even more relevant now, which led us to develop a more comprehensive piece of guidance around this age group,” said Ari Brown in a statement released by the doctor group Tuesday. The policy statement will be published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics. “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media – both foreground and background – have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than two years,” it said. Pediatrician Ari Brown said the update was needed because of the explosion of baby DVDs targeting the 0-2 age group, and because as many as 90 per cent of parents acknowledge that their infants watch some sort of electronic media.

“Clearly, no one is listening to this message,” she said in an interview. “In this ubiquitous screen world, I think we need to find a way to manage it, and make it a healthy media diet.” Further, parents who watch their own programs while a child is around may be distracted, and that detracts from play and activities that are key to a child’s development. Parents should avoid placing a television set in their children’s bedrooms, and be aware that their own media use may have a negative effect on their children, the group said. “When the TV is on the parent is talking less,” Brown told AFP. “There is some scientific evidence that shows that the less talk time a child has, the poorer their language development is.” The recommendations add data showing that TV viewing around bedtime causes poor sleep and that young children with “heavy media use” are at risk for language delays once they start school.

Findings also have shown that video programs marketed as “educational” for infants and toddlers aren’t backed by evidence to support that claim, the doctor group said. Kids under two are too young to be able to understand these images on the screen, said the AAP. Though about 50 studies have been done in the past decade on media viewing by tots, none have followed heavy television watchers into later childhood or adulthood, so any long-term effects are not known. Heavy media use is defined as a household in which the television is on all or most of the time. Also, the AAP guidelines point out that research to date suggests a “correlation between television viewing and developmental problems, but they cannot show causality.”