TV, Tots, and Tired Parents: The Backlash to the AAP’s TV Policy
Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new guidelines for TV use in kids under 2 years old. I intended that piece to be a brief summary of the new guidelines and the research that the AAP used to support them. I didn’t think about these guidelines as being controversial.
However, as the media and the blogosphere got wind of the new guidelines, I found article after article questioning them – calling the AAP out on making a recommendation without solid science and blaming them for creating the next round of unwelcome parenting guilt.
Polly Palumbo at Momma Data posted a piece in which she points out that the studies on TV and babies are really still inconclusive. Polly knows her stuff, and of course she’s right about this. The research points to problems with babies watching TV, but the evidence is mostly correlative rather than pinpointing TV as the cause.
In his piece on Slate.com (Go Ahead, a Little TV Won’t Hurt Him), Farhad Manjoo says that TV is key to distracting his one-year-old enough to get him to eat his dinner. Wow, that’s a great way to set up your kid to have healthy eating habits! Before you know it, he’ll be able to shovel it in himself without any thought for what or how he is eating, as long as the TV is on. But other than that example, Manjoo makes some excellent points. Namely, there is very little research on the effects of a moderate amount of TV (less than an hour per day) on babies.
Then there was a great piece on Momsicle (American Academy of Pediatrics & Screen Time: Moms, You’re Ruining Your Kids’ Lives Again) that gives voice to how many parents feel about this recommendation. This mom of two kids under two needs just a little TV to survive the day. She says the AAP’s blanket recommendation doesn’t help her and might actually cause more guilt and stress in her life. And the last thing a mother needs is more stress – we can all agree on that.
Reading all this made we wonder: Should I have been a little harder on the AAP, finding all the holes in their science, especially since I bill myself as a scientist-at-heart? Am I out-of-touch with the reality faced by most parents? Do I need to work at being a bit edgier?
Actually, I think the AAP did the right thing.
First of all, let’s look at what the AAP actually said in the “Recommendations for Parents” section of their policy statement:
“The AAP discourages media use by children younger than 2 years. The AAP realizes that media exposure is a reality for many families in today’s society.”
They “discourage” it, not ban it. They go on to say that parents should make sure their child is watching something age-appropriate and ideally, parents should watch with their child. Don’t put a TV in your child’s bedroom. Realize that adult shows may have a negative effect on children. And above all, unstructured playtime is a better way for a baby to spend his time. This sounds totally reasonable to me. Why is everyone up in arms about this advice?
I know, most parents won’t read the AAP policy statement or their press release. Instead, they’ll read the headlines, which seem to have simplified the message to: “Pediatrician Police Ban TV for Your Kids. If Your Kids Watch TV, You Are a Bad Parent!”
A little TV is probably just fine, but don’t expect the AAP to say that, because then everyone will ask, “How much, then?” And we don’t know. That research hasn’t been done. So the AAP “discourages” TV for babies and wants you to know the potential dangers of it. A little junk food every now and then is probably OK, too, but the AAP isn’t going to release a statement saying that they approve of an Oreo a day for babies. The policy statement clearly discusses the research that raises concerns about TV, but it also honestly describes the pitfalls of the studies. The AAP looked closely at all of these studies and decided that they were concerned enough to take a stand on TV.
You, the parent, now that you are informed, can do what you will. You can include a little TV as part of your child’s day. Just think of it as a little bit of junk food. In moderation, it probably won’t hurt, but don’t expect it to help either. If you want to do something that is definitely good for your child – read, play, or go outside. These nutritious activities are the ones that will build his brain and let him explore HIS world.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to have TV in my one-year-old’s life. If I need to fix dinner or fold some laundry, she is happy to play by herself, as long as she can occasionally check in with me. Seriously, all that kid needs is a cardboard box and a couple empty toilet paper rolls. I swear her toy bin in the kitchen could be mistaken for a recycling bin. Maybe she won’t be able to occupy herself as easily when she’s a little older and has explored everything interesting about a toilet paper roll. Until then, I’m keeping the TV off.
The real shame is that the kids who really need this policy are not the ones whose parents are debating its merits on the blogosphere. Far too many babies in this country watch a lot of TV each day. A 2005 national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that on any given day, 61% of 6- to 23-month-olds watch TV or a video for an average of one hour and nineteen minutes. That’s an average – many kids watch much much more. 19% have a TV in their bedroom, and many parents say they use it to help their child fall asleep at night. 33% live in homes where the TV is on all or most of the time. These babies grow up with constant media input and not enough interaction with real people and the real world. They don’t know how to play, much less enjoy reading a book for entertainment. These are the kids who need this policy, and it might just help if their pediatricians explain to parents the potential dangers of too much TV. That’s why the AAP released this policy, and I think they did the right thing.
Do you think the AAP’s policy is reasonable? Does your baby like TV?