Experts Debate Toddler Access to Digital Devices

Times have changed when it comes to electronic media and the availability and use of digital devices by children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) basic policy statement, published in 1999, discouraged electronic media use by children under two. Given the proliferation of electronic devices, is it time for the AAP’s advice to go the way of the VCR?

Two pediatricians square off on the subject in a point-counterpoint session at the current AAP National Conference in San Diego.

The debate featured Dimitri Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., supporting the pro side with Donald Shifrin, M.D., F.A.A.P., promoting the con position.

Nevertheless, both members of the AAP and a variety of pediatric experts agree that hard and fast rules are a hard sell.

In 1999, pediatricians were concerned with early access to television programs, videos, and DVDs. But toddlers now have access to a vast array of touchscreen devices that are available anywhere and everywhere.

Although the AAP has revised its media use policy over the years based on the latest research, the message regarding toddlers’ exposure to screens is the same.

Christakis said touchscreens are merely a platform. If a toddler watches a movie on an iPad, it’s no different than watching a movie on a DVD player.

“However, tablets also can be used to read books to children, and high-quality apps are similar to toys. Thus, the AAP needs to consider how these devices are used instead of discouraging their use across the board,” he said.

“We don’t want to risk appearing so out of touch that we’re irrelevant and people won’t take our advice seriously,” Christakis said.

But Shifrin worries that if parents believe mobile device apps are educational, they may adopt a “more is better” mentality.

“The most dangerous thing we can do for youngsters nowadays is to deny them access to the digital world,” Shifrin said, “but the second most dangerous thing is to give them unlimited access.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics


Mother and toddler using tablet photo by shutterstock.