Reality Check: Will Anyone Be Able to Follow the New Guidelines on Kids and Screen Time?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has impeccable timing. The organization just released an updated policy statement about kids under age 2 and media. Of course this happens just days after I filled out a questionnaire from my son’s school, which asked, among other things: “How much television does your child watch daily?”

My stomach sank. I didn’t want to reveal our family’s secret number and turns out, it was for good reason: The AAP now believes that there is “significantly more potential negative effects of media than positive ones for the under-two age group.” Notably, TV can have an adverse impact on healthy sleep habits and may affect language development.

And it’s not just the Nick Jr. stuff they're scarfing down with breakfast. Even educational children’s television has a negative effect on language development for the under-2 set, according to the report. When the tube is on a lot (39 percent of families with young children have it on constantly), parents are less likely to talk with their child. TV can also sabotage sleep since toddlers who are begging to watch another show may have a harder time settling down at night, says Ari Brown, M.D, the lead author of the report. 

While my kids are now over age 2 (I’ve got a preschooler and a potty-trainer), I'll be honest, our time logged in front of the tube when they were that age was pretty much where it is right now: Two-and-a-half hours. It’s on during the craziness of the morning routine and usually remains that way till we all scurry out the door to make it to school on time. The TV comes on again after dinner and before storytime. And I'm not alone: 90% of the parents surveyed said that their child under 2 watched some form of electronic media; the average was one to two hours per day.

Yes, I know that I could be staging puppet shows and busting out the paints or letting my kids scream and fight -- I mean, play -- independently instead of flipping on Curious George. But I actually don’t feel bad about it. After all, the report urges parents to limit exposure (I do that, though not to the extent that the AAP recommends, saying that all media is "discouraged" for this age group), to know what the kiddos are watching (done) and to avoid putting a TV in a child’s room (as if!).

Here’s what I think: TV and kids is kind of like wine and pregnant ladies. No official doctor’s group is going to be all “Yes, go ahead! There’s no harm in moderation.” Why? Because there are always people who take that as the official go-ahead to take it too far. I’m under no delusions that my child was learning great things from the TV at age one. What I do know is, it allowed me to take a shower, take a pee, toss in a load of laundry -- and be a better mom because of it.

Plus, watch our series Oh, Really? about TV fun facts!

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