I spoke with renowned University of Massachusetts preschool media expert (and friend), Dr Daniel Anderson, to get his take on the AAP statement and the following is his response:
The AAP statement is now more evidence-based and moderate than the original 1999 recommendation. My reaction to it is in four parts: positive effects of video watching; negative effects of video watching; effects of background media; and effects of interactive media such as iPads. I think each of these requires somewhat different consideration.
Positive effects: Sadly, there is very little evidence that infants and toddlers under two years learn much of anything that is useful from existing commercial videos. There is one study that reports some word learning from many repeated exposures to a single video, but there are several more that find no learning. That said, there are a number laboratory studies with experimental videos that do show infant learning under certain circumstances. Because these studies suggest that there may be some positive potential in educational video for infants, I think the AAP guideline should be periodically revisited. We may eventually learn how to make infant videos that are valuable for development.
Negative effects: There are some studies that report a negative relationship of baby video viewing to aspects of cognitive and language development and sleep. There are other studies that find no relationship or a positive relationship. All of these studies are open to methodological criticism. Overall, if the negative effects are real (but this is not yet certain), then it is appropriate that parents significantly limit their infants’ exposure to video before age two years.
Background media: The clearest evidence that is emerging is that television and other media in the background of the home have a deleterious impact on infants and toddlers. Infant toy play is less sustained and less focused when there is adult or general audience programs on in the background. Parent engagement with their infants is greatly reduced in quantity and quality when they are watching TV or when they are using their own mobile media. Initial studies indicate that exposure to background media is associated with poorer cognitive and language development.
Interactive media: There has been and is continuing to be an exposive growth in babies’ use of interactive media, especially media devices with touch screens. About 40% of the best selling apps are directed at preschoolers and infants. There is no evidence at this time whether this is good, bad, or indifferent for infant development. Unlike 1999, when there was equally little evidence about video, the AAP recognizes the lack of evidence on the value or danger of infant use of mobile devices. Clearly, we need a lot more research on the impact of these devices, as well as on media more generally.
Professor Emeritus Daniel R. Anderson
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts