Letting Your Baby Spend Too Much Time on the iPad Is As Bad As You Think

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Photo: Peter Cade/Getty Images

All parents know it: Screens are bad for very young children. Television, tablets, smartphones — all are considered detrimental to developing minds. In fact, for years the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under the age of two aren’t exposed to screens at all, and that children older than that do not see them more than two hours per day. But now they’re making some significant changes, and as with their updated baby sleep guidelines, the new rules nod in the direction of reality.

First, while the AAP recommends that children under 18 months (previously it was 24) not be exposed to screens at all, they now make exceptions for video calls like FaceTime for family members. “When video chatting, children under 16 months show no learning gains, though there may be a benefit in promoting bonding when physical distance limits frequent in-person interactions,” they write.

After 18 months of age, the AAP now says that while it’s alright to show babies a very small amount of programming, it should be of a “high quality,” and parents should be engaged with the content, rather than simply allowing the child to sit alone watching. The focus, then, remains on parents to stay engaged, not to use screens to distract or babysit children.

While the new guidelines open the previously closed door to children under 2, overall the guidelines heavily roll back the allotted amount of screen time recommended for small children. Previously, after the age of 2 the only guideline was to limit the amount to two or fewer hours per day. For children ages 2 to 5, the new guidelines suggest less than one hour per day.

Recent studies suggest that most babies under the age of 2 have some exposure to screens, especially smartphones, which are small, portable, and an easy distraction for a crying baby in a restaurant or other public place. But studies have repeatedly found that babies derive no benefit from them, and some have even found detrimental effects. So while the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines are scientifically sound, some parents will probably still find them either unrealistic or very hard to follow.