STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you have young children, you may have struggled with this rule - no electronic media before age 2. Well, now you can feel a little bit off the hook because that rule is out the window as of today. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which first issued the no-screens prohibition has now changed what it says. And Anya Kamenetz of the NPR Ed team is on this story.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: This is shocking...
INSKEEP: ...Because as a parent of kids who have been under 2, I mean, you focus on this a lot. And you worry about this a lot. It's hard work.
KAMENETZ: Yes, absolutely. But here's the thing, I've spoken to some of the original authors of the no-screens-before-2 rule, which came out in 1999. And they said they actually didn't necessarily have a lot of evidence for it, even back then.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So it's like the tooth-flossing rule, where they eventually admitted they didn't really have a good basis for that either?
KAMENETZ: I don't know if it's flossgate (ph) exactly, but the thing is that media research can't move at the same pace as media itself does. And in the last decade and a half, we have this world of ubiquitous smartphones and iPads. Family habits are changing. And so it's really, really difficult to create evidence-based recommendations. But the American Academy of Pediatrics felt that it was really important to update the recommendations to at least reflect what families are actually doing.
INSKEEP: Was the original rule just about TV?
KAMENETZ: It was. In 1999, that was the main concern, was television for young children. There - it wasn't really possible for toddlers to interact so well with computers that had keyboards.
INSKEEP: OK. I think we're getting toward the change here. If you're watching TV, you're just watching a program, for the most part. You might be doing something more with an iPad or with a computer or with a smartphone. So what's the difference? And how big is the difference?
KAMENETZ: Well, so, for babies younger than 18 months, the AAP still says that no screens at all are ideal - with one notable exception, and that is live video chat, so the Skyping-with-Grandma effect. Studies show that, you know, upwards of 90 percent of parents are taking advantage of video chat, and they believe that it doesn't count. We don't have necessarily gold-standard evidence that that's true. But there are some small observational studies that show that tiny infants as young as 6 months can actually get something out of a social back and forth over a video screen, provided that there's a caregiver in the room sort of helping facilitate that.
INSKEEP: OK. So let's see if we can understand a little bit better what these rules are. Don't use a screen as a babysitter. Don't use a TV, for example, as a babysitter. But you can do things where you interact?
KAMENETZ: Right. So moving on - if you - you know, so under the 15-month level, you really - you want to avoid everything except possibly video chatting. Fifteen months to 2 years, there are some very small studies that show that toddlers can learn, for example, new words from an educational video but if and only if there is a caregiver in the room that is helping them interpret what they see on the screen.
INSKEEP: Oh, so I can use the screen as a tool. I just shouldn't leave the kid alone with the screen.
KAMENETZ: That's exactly right. So the new AAP guideline - the bottom line is going from no screens under age 2 to avoid solo media use under age 2.
INSKEEP: Have a person there somewhere.
KAMENETZ: Yeah, that's really the focus here.
INSKEEP: Anya, thanks for the update.
KAMENETZ: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's Anya Kamenetz of NPR's Ed team.
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