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Q: I am an educator, and I often recommend to parents that they follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for no TV under age 2. I’d love to be able to tell parents how to go about introducing TV to kids after they turn 2. What do you recommend I say to them?
Teaching about Television in North Reading, MA

A: Dear Teaching about Television,

Thanks for spreading the word about the AAP recommendation; having teachers reinforce this message to parents is very important. How to incorporate TV into children’s lives is an excellent question. I think there are 3 questions parents would most likely want to hear answers to:

What should they watch? Choose material that is very safe and warm. Young children are in a very different emotional and cognitive place than adults are, so even though kids’ programming like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood might seem slow or repetitive or excessively sweet to you, it is often just right for them. Also understand, however, that each child is an individual. Some find Barney very comforting, but others find him scary because he’s a big purple dinosaur.

Another thing to think about is what age a show is designed for. For example, Sesame Street may seem like a great choice for 2 year olds because it is warm and safe, but it is actually designed for 3-5 year olds.  Two year olds simply can’t absorb the kind of learning that Sesame Street offers, regardless of how smart they are, so although they can copy someone counting to 10, they don’t truly understand the concept of numbers. They won't be harmed by watching it before they are ready, but if they do, they will be bored with it by the time they are old enough to reap its benefits, and they will miss out on that experience.

How should they watch? After parents select appropriate shows, they should watch these shows with their children–especially when they are first introducing TV. Young children learn better from educational media when watching with their parents. Parents can label objects the kids have never seen, answer questions, and even ask their own, for example pausing a show to say “What do you think will happen next?” Parents can also elaborate on lessons from TV programs or videos by pointing out similar situations in the child’s own environment. (See a related Parent Perspective about Dora the Explorer.)

How much should they watch? Young children have limited attention spans, so any activity should fall within one attention cycle. They should spend the same amount of time watching TV as they would spend drawing or building with blocks. At age 2, their attention cycles last for about 20 minutes. Also, be sure to leave a lot of room between TV time and bed time, since TV can rev kid up instead of calming them down. 

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

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