By DR. SALLY ROBINSON

Infants, toddlers and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies, which they are adopting at increasing rates. Although there has been much hope for the educational potential of interactive media for young children, there are also fears about their overuse during this crucial early period of rapid brain development. Research in the area still remains limited. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a policy statement in Pediatrics Volume 138, No. 5, November 2016. This statement reviews the existing studies on television, videos, and mobile/interactive technologies for their potential educational benefit and related health concerns for young children (0 to 5 years of age). Below is a brief review of this policy.

Children who are younger than 2, need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor and social/emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory and attention skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers. They have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their three-dimensional experience. The most important factor that helps toddlers’ learning from commercial media is parents watching with them and reteaching the content. Population-based studies continue to show association between excessive television viewing in early childhood and cognitive, language and social/emotional delays likely secondary to decreases in parent-child interaction when the television is on and poorer family functioning in households with high media use.

Here are some recommendations for families for digital media:

• Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.

• For children ages 18 to 24 months choose high-quality programming and use media with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.

• Do not feel pressure to introduce technology early. Children will learn how to use them quickly.

• For children ages 2-5, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programming, that is seen with the caregiver helping the child to understand what they are seeing and how to apply it to the world around them.

• Avoid fast-paced programs with lots of distracting content and any violent content.

• Turn off televisions and other devices while not in use.

• Avoid using media to calm you child as there are concerns that this might lead to problems with limit-setting and an inability of a child to develop their own emotion regulation.

• Keep bedrooms, mealtimes and parent-child playtimes screen-free.

• No screens one hour before bedtime and remove devices from bedroom before bed.
Consult the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Plan, which is available at www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.