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Why Pediatricians Now Approve of Video Chat for Infants

On Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations slightly revising its previous position discouraging media use for children under two-years-old. While emphasizing that “creative, unplugged playtime” should be the priority for infants and toddlers, the association now says that live video chatting is acceptable for babies of any age.

The Association also now says that starting at about 18 months, some media can have educational value for infants, with PBS and its famous children’s program Sesame Street specifically name-checked as appropriate. Even then, benefits depend heavily on parents watching programs alongside children, and then “reteaching” the content.

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Shifting standards for children’s media consumption seem to have more to do with changes in technology than in the understanding of how babies develop. There’s evidence that interactive touchscreens are slightly better at teaching kids than video, with children as young as 15 months old able to learn new words from touchscreen-based activities. Even in those cases, though, children had difficulty transferring their learning to the real world.

Video chatting isn’t really an exception to those findings. A supporting document released with the new guidelines says that video chat interactions “usually are brief, promote social connection, and involve support from adults,” and so “should not be discouraged”. But the Association doesn’t cite any hard evidence that video chatting has positive benefits for child development.

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The AAP still says physical activity, hands-on exploration, and face-to-face socializing are the best ways for young children to learn, with a real ability to learn from recorded video not emerging until age three.

But despite years of discouraging media use for small children, the AAP cites recent studies showing that 92.2% of one-year-olds have used a mobile device.