TV for toddlers?
A review of the current recommendations for screen time for infants and toddlers.
Should your infants and toddlers be watching television? What about using tablets and hand-held devices? Research tells us that more than 40 percent of infants under five months of age are watching some form of videos, and by two years of age, more than 90 percent of children are engaging with screen media on a regular basis. Parents are often surprised to hear their pediatricians tell them no, their infants and toddlers should not be watching TV.
Why shouldn’t infants and toddlers be viewing television? To find an answer to that question, experts turn to brain research. Young children’s brains are growing rapidly in the first three years of life. In fact, in the first year of life alone, infants’ brains triple in size!
What’s going on inside those quickly growing brains? Is there really harm in popping in a quick video so caregivers can get a task accomplished? There is growing evidence that says yes, there really is the potential for lasting negative impacts on infant and toddler brain development when they are exposed to screen media at this young age. Research shows language development, reading skills, short-term memory, sleep and attention span are all impacted by television viewing in these critical early years.
In the early years, the brain is growing very rapidly as synapsis, or connections, between neurons are forming. Infants are born with 2,500 synapsis per neuron, but by age three, children have about 15,000 synapses per neuron. This “wiring” of the brain comes to an end by age three and cannot be duplicated later in life. When young children are engaged with screentime instead of play experiences, their brains are not stimulated to form these critical connections.
Interactive experiences with caregivers and the world around them are the rich “brain food” infants and toddlers need to develop these brain pathways. When that play time is replaced with TV time, or even when the TV is on in the background, children show negative consequences. More than 50 studies have been conducted since the late 1990’s, consistently showing the harmful effects of television viewing on children under the age of two.
Michigan State University Extension agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to minimize or eliminate television-viewing time for children under two years of age. What else can you do to support brain development? Here are a few tips for use with your infants and toddlers:
- Ensure access to a high quality diet. Pediatricians recommend infants consume breast milk or formula as their primary source of nutrition from birth through age one. Follow directions when mixing formula and do not substitute formula with cow’s milk. The high caloric and fat content of breast milk and/or formula is just what growing brains need most!
- Provide access to a wide variety of stimuli. Read to your child, take your babies outside for walks and play ball with your toddlers. Put together puzzles, bake cookies, pet the dog and play in the snow. The more experiences your can share with your infants and toddlers, the more you will support their brain development.
- Help them sleep! Growing brains (and bodies) need sleep. Support children’s healthy sleep by encouraging predictable routines, creating quiet environments that encourage sleep and always remember to put baby on their back alone in the crib.
Learn more about how to support the youngest members of your family in MSU Extension’s new online parenting education class, Building Early Emotional Skills or by attending one of MSU Extension’s early childhood education programs in your area.