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Media Tips for Babies and Toddlers

Want to stimulate your baby's brain? Make a media plan that balances your kids' day with quality content and plenty of developmentally appropriate activities.

Topics: Screen Time

Using the TV, a tablet, a smart phone or video game as a babysitter may not be something to brag about, but we all know that it's an easy way to buy some necessary downtime. According to the Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight, kids 8 and under spend about two hours a day interacting with screen media. That's a lot.

Obviously, a little screen time won't harm your child. But very heavy screen use can negatively impact babies' and toddlers' cognitive, physical, and emotional development. In the crucial 0-2 years, children really learn best by exploring the world with all of their senses and interacting with loving caregivers.

However, new research indicates some positive benefits of early media use -- particularly with digital devices. Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released in October 2016 allow for some screen use for kids younger than 2, including videochatting with relatives, as long as parents choose high-quality media and are actively involved.

That requires a little extra effort on the part of parents to carefully consider what their babies and toddlers are interacting with. Fortunately, programs with learning potential, pro-social messages, and brain-stimulating interaction -- rather than mere passive consumption -- are not hard to find.

Here are some ideas for how to successfully manage your little one's media time.

Tips for parents of young kids

  • If you're going to let babies interact with a screen, know what they're watching and playing. Be smart about the programs you pick. Choose games or programs that are age appropriate, with non-jarring sounds and bright, stimulating colors.
  • Don't turn TV into preschool. Baby TV hasn't proven to be of any benefit for school readiness. The best preparation for your children involves spending time with them, reading, talking, and exposing them to the world.
  • Have-it-your-way TV. Take advantage of your DVR, On-Demand service, and streaming TV on the Internet to take control over what your kids watch, when they watch, and how much they watch. Customize the experience by skipping commercials and muting parts you don't want your kids to hear.
  • As kids get older, keep media out of their bedroom. When TVs or computers are in their room, kids spend more time using media, and parents are less involved with their choices.
  • Teach your children to ask you whether it's OK to turn on media. This simple control mechanism helps keep gaming, TV watching, and online activity from becoming habits.
  • Watch the clock. Media use increases as children get older. Less screen time improves your children's ability to entertain themselves in other ways. Set time rules, and stick to them.
  • Co-view and co-play. Take an active role in your kids' media and take the time to share your values with them.
Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.