Now for the last item in this short series on technology and young children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has been busy lately. As I reported earlier, the Academy adopted a policy on toxic stress.  Another recently announced policy statement – “Media Use by Children Younger than 2 Years” — discourages exposure to television and other screens for infants and toddlers. The guidelines come at a time when large numbers of young children are spending time in front of various screens.

The pediatricians’ recommendation “is less stringent than its first such warning, in 1999, which called on parents of young children to all but ban television watching for children under 2 and to fill out a ‘media history’ for doctor’s office visits,” The New York Times reports. “But it also makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program for such young children, and that leaving the TV on as background noise, as many households do, distracts both children and adults.”

The AAP policy statement defines media as “television programs, prerecorded videos, Web-based programming, and DVDs viewed on either traditional or new screen technologies.” It also offers some statistics: “Currently, 90% of parents report that their children younger than 2 years watch some form of electronic media. By 3 years, almost one third of children have a television in their bedroom.”

Shortly after the pediatricians’ gathering, Common Sense Media released a study – “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America” – that found that roughly 40% of children, age 2-4, use smartphones, iPads and other devices, as do roughly half of children, age 5-8. Television still dominates.

“Despite the proliferation of new technologies and platforms, television continues to dominate children’s media use. Among all 0- to 8-year-olds, an average of 1:40 is spent watching television or DVDs in a typical day, compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to, 29 minutes listening to music, 17 minutes using a computer, 14 minutes using a console or handheld video game player, and 5 minutes using a cell phone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device,” the  Common Sense Media news release states.

“Even among infants and toddlers, screen media use dwarfs time spent reading. In a typical day, 0- to 1-year-olds spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes). And some young children have already begun media multitasking: 23% of 5- to 8-year-olds use more than one medium ‘most’ or ‘some’ of the time.”

The pediatricians’ policy notes that media use often comes at the expense of the direct human interactions, playtime and read-aloud time that form the basis of language and cognitive development in young children.

“Pediatricians should explain to parents the importance of unstructured, unplugged play in allowing a child’s mind to grow, problem-solve, think innovatively, and develop reasoning skills,” the policy recommends. “Unstructured play occurs both independently and cooperatively with a parent or caregiver. The importance of parents sitting down to play with their children cannot be overstated.

‘Families should be strongly encouraged to sit down and read to their child to foster their child’s cognitive and language development.”

As Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University, tells the Times “What we know from recent research on language development is that the more language that comes in — from real people — the more language the child understands and produces later on.”