Playing With Smartphones Isn’t Going to Damage Toddlers

Tablets and TVs can be both good and bad for your child

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Christa Renee/Corbis

For years the American Academy of Pediatrics has said to keep babies and toddlers away from screens—no iPad, no smartphone and no TV for the wee ones. Yet the reason why this was recommended wasn't always as clear as the guidance itself. This situation, says Lisa Guernsey for Slate, has led to a lot of confusion and added burden for some parents who are already struggling to raise babies in a world bristling with screens.

Parents have told me about exhausting maneuvers they have attempted to keep their baby’s head turned away from screens when their older children are watching. One mother in Portland, Ore., was visibly upset when she approached me after a public forum on the subject. She and her 1-year-old had been Skyping with her mother in China, and she desperately wanted to keep doing so because they all loved the interactions, but she worried that something emanating from the screen would harm her baby.

The reality of the situation, says Guernsey, is that looking at screens was never bad for your baby. The pediatricians' worry was that parents would plop their kid in front of the TV rather than playing with them, and their recommendation was an overwrought response to this assumed threat.

Screen time can be a good thing or a bad thing, says Guernsey, describing the takeaway of a new report on the issue put out by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Deciding which is which comes down to how the screens are being used: interactive apps and ebooks, talking to grandma on Skype and looking through photos together? Great. Hours upon hours of endless television? Not so great. It's all about moderation and balance.

This backtrack on the AAP's zealous "no screen" advice is great news for parents because, really, sometimes the TV is your only hope of getting five seconds to get dinner together.

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