Interpreting the Under-Two Guideline at Home
Drs. Milteer and Shifrin want to emphasize that the under-two recommendation is just that—a suggestion to parents. "The AAP doesn't want parents or the public to think that we're zealots, that this is the bottom line," Dr. Milteer says. "These are recommendations, and we offer parents reasons why, and we hope they'll follow the recommendations." If not, however, she suggests ways to make television a more meaningful part of a child's life, such as keeping track of what the child is watching and limiting all screen time to two hours a day for kids older than two.
The AAP is aware that television is a part of the lives of many children under two. Dr. Shifrin cites another study from the Kaiser Family Foundation reporting that nearly one of five children (19 percent) under the age of two has a television in his or her bedroom.
That same report, The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers and Their Parents, from May 2006, gives figures for the percentage of children under two who watch television: 43 percent watch "every day," 17 percent "several times a week," and three percent "several times a month." Twelve percent watch "less often" than that, and 24 percent "never" watch TV, the study says.
"Parents already are uneasy about [watching TV]," Dr. Shifrin says, "but it's a necessity, and the Academy understands that, and that's why it's not a black-and-white issue." The AAP is in the business of giving the best advice possible based on scientific research, he adds. "Our mission is the optimal health of children—social, physical, mental, emotional health," according to Dr. Shifrin. "The bar we set is quite high, but we're saying to parents: 'Optimally, we'd like you to consider not watching TV for youngsters under the age of two.'"
For the real world in which many toddlers do watch TV, Dr. Milteer gives guidelines for parents. "If parents must let children in this age group view television programming," she says, they should:
- Watch TV with their children.
- Explain to the child what is going on "at a level that is appropriate for the child to understand."
- Make sure the programs are appropriate in terms of language and content.
- "Teach them to discriminate between good and poor media exposure," as Dr. Milteer writes in "My House, My Rules" in the December 2005 issue of AAP News.
- Focus on physical activity as a counterpoint to kids' time watching TV.