I'm pretty much winging this dad thing, so I'm not someone to take any parenting advice from. But I try not to turn on the TV when I'm playing with my nearly 2-year-old kid because I worry about somehow messing up her developing mind (and I'll often give in if she's particularly insistent about watching Elmo.) That said, these days, screens are everywhere, from the boob tube to iPhone I check way too often when I'm watching her (and yeah, I know that's probably setting a terrible example.)
When I was a kid, my parents had strict television rules: no more than an hour a day, and the content must be educational. This meant a lot of PBS. I did briefly convince my mother that the secret-agent show “MacGyver” was about science, but that boondoggle ended when she watched an episode with me. These restrictions seemed severe at the time, but my parents were just following the orders of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Children and teens should have no more than one to two hours of screen time per day, with children under 2 having no screen time at all. Those orders remain the same today.
Relative to my childhood, limits on screen time have become increasingly restrictive and confusing. The iPad (and Kindle, and various other tablets) has opened up a world of “educational” screen time. If my 4-year-old is doing a workbook on the iPad, does that mean she learns less than if we used a physical workbook? The AAP advocates for newspapers and physical books over iPads, computers and other screen options.
The AAP statement on media seems opposed to screens per se (quote: “young children learn best when they interact with people, not screens”) without really differentiating among various uses and types of screens. But, not surprisingly, when you look at the research, the screen matters less than what you do with it.