Over the last decade, electronic screen media have become thoroughly integrated in our everyday lives. As adults, it is difficult for us to imagine spending a day without our smartphones, tablets, laptops and streaming services connecting us to videos, books, music and more. But while media tools have become a normal part of our routines, there has been uncertainty about what best practice media use looks like for very young children.
In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated guidelines regarding children’s healthy use of screen media and what it calls “digital citizenship.” For children younger than 18 months, the AAP recommends no screen time other than video chatting. While this recommendation limits media options for very young children, there are a variety of media today that can be excellent learning tools and fit their needs.
At the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston’s Children Hospital, we seek to understand the positive and negative health influences media can have and to find media uses that have the most positive effects possible in children’s lives. Following are tips for age-appropriate media use for infants and toddlers based on our research. Use the acronym M.E.D.I.A. to remember them!
M is for message. All media are educational — it’s what they teach that varies. Ensure whatever media your child is exposed to shares a message or lesson you want them to learn. The best content for infants and toddlers is content that promotes healthy development and language skills. Music is ideal, particularly instrumental music and songs with simple, repetitive lyrics. Soothing instrumental sounds help babies calm themselves and repetitive lyrics aid in memorization.
E is for environment. Create environments with infant- and toddler-friendly media, and avoid potentially harmful media. Stimulate infants and toddlers with child-friendly music and illustrated board or soft books. Keep babies and toddlers away from screen media (like TV) as it distracts them from free play, which is so important for hands-on discovery. Be sure to limit TV and video viewing when infants and toddlers are awake, and keep those screens from distracting their sleep once they doze off.
D is for developmental stage. An infant’s brain triples in volume in the first two years of life, so it’s critical to stimulate learning through play that involves creativity and exploration. Reading to your baby is key. Studies show that as babies become verbal, the “serve and return” method of story time is an ideal way for parents to help their babies connect images with words and develop a foundation for language and comprehension.
I is for information. Remember how much research you put into selecting your pediatrician and car seat? Use that same scrutiny to pre-select the media you choose for your little one. Talk to other parents, seek out family-friendly reviews and test the products yourself before exposing your child to them.
A is for amount. Read to your infant or toddler at least once a day. Your child will love to sit in your lap, hear your voice and help you turn the pages. This one-on-one time is critical to helping your child learn to read and develop strong literacy skills while also feeling nurtured and safe.
Want to know even more about balancing children and technology? Check out this blog post for the latest information about media guidelines for preschoolers and some helpful parenting tips!