What's age-appropriate for 0- to 2-year-olds?

The way our kids consume and create media profoundly affects their social, emotional, and physical development. That's why, when we make assessments about age appropriateness, we rely on developmental criteria from some of the nation's leading authorities to determine what content and activities are best suited for each age and stage. Below you will find the developmental guidelines we use in establishing our age ratings and recommendations. But even as we rely on experts, we know that all kids grow and mature differently. Our age-based reviews and ratings are a guide -- but ultimately, you're still the expert when it comes to your kids.

What's going on at age 0–2?

Cognitive development: Babies and toddlers use all five senses to explore and learn about their worlds. They enjoy repetition -- in activities, songs, and books -- and they're fascinated by figuring out cause and effect. By the time they're 2, toddlers start engaging in simple pretend play and enjoy naming familiar objects and animals. Their attention spans are limited, and they jump from activity to activity but are often riveted by television, apps, and anything that has bright colors and distinctive noises. Kids this age love being read to and will imitate actions seen at another time and place. They also scare easily and can't readily tell the difference between reality and fantasy. They can be as scared of something pretend as something real. During toddlers' first years, language is primarily receptive, meaning they hear what others say but can't form words to respond. They're learning to assign meanings to words, and they babble in ways that increasingly mimic the sounds of their native language. Toward the second half of their second year, toddlers will start a "word spurt" during which their vocabulary really takes off.

Social and emotional development: By the time they turn 1, toddlers can understand others' basic emotions and have developed strong attachments to their regular caregivers. They enjoy attention from adults and learn best in social situations. They also tend to fear strangers and unfamiliar places and objects. Over the course of their second year, they'll play alone or next to other children (known as "parallel play"). Toddlers often have difficulty sharing and are very egocentric, meaning they don't recognize that other people might have different thoughts and wishes than they do. Toddlers also have trouble with rules, and they can shift moods quickly.

Physical development: By the end of their first year, babies move around on their own -- crawling, cruising, or even taking their first tentative steps. They can also hold and manipulate objects, although awkwardly. By the time they're 2, toddlers move from crawling to walking to running. They can stack blocks and scribble, and although they're still awkward in their movements, they can grasp objects well.

Technological/digital savviness: Parents may occasionally find it helpful to have their toddlers watch TV or movies. However, while infants and toddlers may be attracted to screens, they can't manipulate anything complex. Also, toddlers have difficulty understanding how screen media relates to the real world. They probably don't learn a lot from so-called educational TV and movies. And while touchscreens (smartphones, tablets) may be engaging and easy to use at this age, it's not known whether babies and toddlers can learn from digital media. In most cases, it's best for toddlers to engage with people rather than screens. When toddlers do use screen media, they will benefit most when media is used as part of language-rich, social activities with caregivers. Video chat (such as FaceTime or Skype) can be used to stay connected with others, with support and guidance from grown-ups.

What's age-appropriate at age 0–2?

  • Educational value: Toddlers will memorize songs and words, but they don't always know what they're saying. It's best to select media that teaches simple messages. Toddlers are unlikely to learn much by using screen media alone, so use media with children to help them get the most out of it.
  • Positive models and messages: Even though toddlers have difficulty understanding educational media content, they may still imitate things they see on TV or in other media. It's best to choose media with positive, pro-social messaging that depicts kind interactions among characters. It's best for babies and toddlers to be exposed to people of different backgrounds through books, music, and images.
  • Violence: Toddlers may imitate what they see in media without actually understanding it. Children this age should not be exposed to any violent or aggressive content. They should see only positive, friendly interactions among characters.
  • Scariness: Children this age should not be exposed to scary or emotionally intense media. Toddlers are most likely to be frightened by loud noises or startling images. Darkness, strange sounds, distorted faces or bodies, and other grotesque images can all be upsetting, even if the story communicates that things are OK or that this is a good or funny character.
  • Sexy stuff:The concept of romantic relationships and scenes of affection between partners (hugging, holding hands) are age-appropriate. Anything more is not appropriate at this age.
  • Language: Swearing or aggressive or threatening speech is inappropriate. Toddlers may learn words from media if the words are repeated. Young children should not hear any language that they shouldn't repeat.
  • Consumerism and commercialism: Kids this age are too young to understand the "persuasive intent" of advertising (the idea that an ad is trying to sell you something). Try to stick to commercial-free programming and record shows or watch on demand to limit exposure to advertising. Children this age are attracted to anything that has characters they recognize from TV or movies, including food packaging, toys, and even apps and games.
  • Risky and unhealthy behavior: Toddlers should only see characters who model healthy, safe behavior.