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'Screen-Free' Play Best for Toddlers' Brains

TUESDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Unstructured play is much better than TV or videos for encouraging brain development in infants and toddlers, a new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement says.

Free play helps children under age 2 learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at an early age. It also teaches them how to entertain themselves, the pediatric experts pointed out in an AAP news release.

While a large number of video programs for infants and toddlers are marketed as educational, no evidence exists to support this claim, said the AAP. The group also said that extensive exposure to TV and videos puts children at risk for delays in language development when they start school.

Even when parents watch their own programs, it distracts them and decreases their interaction with their children. The intrusion of a parent's TV program may also interfere with a young child's opportunities to learn from play and other activities.

Overall, young children learn best from and require interaction with people, not TV shows or videos, the AAP advises.

The policy statement outlines a number of recommendations for parents and caregivers.

The AAP discourages electronic media use for children younger than 2. If parents choose to let their children watch TV or videos, they need to set limits on viewing time and have a strategy for managing use.

When parents don't have time to actively engage in play with a child, they should opt for supervised independent play instead of TV or videos, the study authors said in the news release. For example, give the child nesting cups to play with on the floor nearby while a parent prepares dinner.

Don't put a television in a child's bedroom, the experts warned. Watching TV before bedtime can cause poor sleep habits and irregular sleep schedules, which can lead to mood, behavior and learning problems.

"In today's 'achievement culture,' the best thing you can do for your young child is to give [the child] a chance to have unstructured play -- both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works," lead author Dr. Ari Brown, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media, said in the AAP news release.

The policy statement was slated for release Tuesday at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Boston and published online and in the November print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers positive parenting tips.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Oct. 18, 2011

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