Moms, Rejoice: The 'No Screen Time Under 2' Rule Has Been Lifted (Sort Of)

baby ipad

Good news for those of us who've been guiltily using our smartphones to pacify our babies in public -- okay, and at home: The American Academy of Pediatrics has lifted its original ban on screen time for kids under the age of 2 years, first issued in 1999 (to the horror of parents everywhere). New research has shown that early exposure to screens might have some benefits -- but you might not want to let your little one start binge watching weird YouTube videos of toys being unwrapped just yet.


For one thing, the AAP maintains that babies under the age of 18 months are still better off with no screens at all -- unless, that is, you're talking about FaceTiming with grandma. While there's not necessarily any hard and fast evidence to support this caveat, apparently observational research has shown that babies as young as 6 months can be "emotionally engaged" by live video chatting.

This is a particularly encouraging finding considering that surveys have shown most families don't think of FaceTime as "screen time," anyway, and figure that the positive aspects of interacting with faraway friends and family are worth the risks.

More from CafeMom: 5 Ways Screen Time Can Actually Be Good for Your Kid

But what about letting toddlers watch straight-up TV? Why is that maybe okay now? Because according to the revised guidelines, there is "limited evidence" that kids ages 15 months to 2 years can learn new words from educational media ... as long as parents are in the room and watching with them, repeating and reinforcing what's being said on the screen. 

This might seem like a big shift from previous studies which linked earlier viewings of "educational" videos with poorer language skills and language delays with earlier TV viewing in general, but it's really not -- because those findings involved "solo" screen time, which is still an issue. So the AAP's guidelines have actually shifted from "avoid all screens under age 2" to "avoid solo media use in this age group." 

Well, this at least cuts us a little bit of slack, right? And as a (TV-addicted) mother of three who has been quite unrepentantly liberal in my use of screen time as a parent, I suppose I do agree toddlers probably get more out of watching Sesame Street (and the like) with mom or dad than they do alone. For example, while I fully credit Elmo & Co. with teaching my 23-month-old the alphabet, I will admit that 98 percent of the time I'm sitting next to him while he's watching, enthusiastically shouting "A is for apple!" along with the Muppets on TV. (The other 2 percent of the time I'm trying to actually use the bathroom by my damn self for once or get the dishwasher loaded without the "help" of a toddler.) 

More from CafeMom: I Made My Daughter Go 'Screen-Free' & It Drove Our Family Apart 

But do I think that parents need to beat themselves up for allowing a little "solo" viewing? Not at all. Granted, I'm no expert, but I will say that my older kids (15 and 11 years) watched way more tot-centric TV than the AAP would have approved of, and they're both honor students with extensive vocabularies, so, there you go. Which is not to say that my personal anecdotal experience is more valuable than the results of actual studies headed up by actual professionals -- I'm just putting that out there. As with most aspects of child-rearing, I think a little common sense goes a long way when it comes to screen time.

Is it okay to park your baby in front of Curious George for hours on end? Probably not the best plan. Is it okay to bring an iPad along to a restaurant or on a plane so everybody (including the strangers around you) can live their best lives without being interrupted by a miserable baby for a little while? Um, yup. That is perfectly fine. (This message has not been endorsed by the AAP.)

And who knows? Maybe someday experts will find that repeated viewings of cute animal baby compilation videos make babies brilliant. (It won't happen.) (It might??)


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