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For babies, no such thing as educational screen time

Pediatricians find that children under the age of 2 learn best from live interaction with humans, not screens.

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that discouraged electronic media use by children under the age of 2. Today, the same group is releasing a follow-up statement that not only maintains its previous recommendations, but backs them up with a great deal of data to boot.

In 1999, as display screens were making their way into parents' and children's bedrooms alike, the pediatricians had limited data with which to work. But they had something of an expert hunch that kids younger than 2 reaped more negative than positive effects from media exposure.

In today's policy statement, the group said it reviewed roughly 50 studies conducted since 1999, and defined media as "television programs, prerecorded videos, Web-based programming, and DVDs viewed on either traditional or new screen technologies."

Among the key findings: There isn't sufficient evidence to support that video programs are educational for infants and toddlers; unstructured play time is more valuable for brain development than electronic media; young children learn best from live interaction with humans, not screens; TV viewing at sleep time can cause poor sleep habits and irregular sleep schedules; and young children with heavy media use are at higher risk for language delays.

The group did find that children older than 2 are capable of understanding what is going on in TV shows and video games, and thus educational media can be, well, educational.

Still, says Dr. Ari Brown, lead author of the policy, "In today's 'achievement culture,' the best thing you can do for your young child is to give her a chance to have unstructured play--both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works."

Brown adds that she doesn't have a problem with touch screens, which are becoming more ubiquitous every day, but that she wants to better understand how using them affects young children socially, physically, and emotionally.

As for videos that purport to be educational to kids younger than 2, Brown tells Wired: "That's great, but prove it. Show me the science."