As the researchers concede, it's not clear what these findings mean. It could be that kids in cold climates or dangerous neighborhoods tend to stay inside, for instance, and therefore watch more TV. And kids who have trouble reading are less apt to enjoy it and may therefore be more inclined to watch TV instead.
That was not the interpretation preferred by the news media. "'Tuned-In' Toddlers Need a TV Timeout," according to the headline in The Washington Times. "For Media-Savvy Tots," The Washington Post warned, "TV and DVD Compete With ABCs." The Detroit Free Press ran an editorial scolding parents to "turn off the TV and read with your kids."
The press took its cue from Kaiser's researchers, for whom the absence of evidence that kids are harmed by "using screen media" is cause for worry rather than reassurance. "We know the first two years are a crucial development period," said Vicky Rideout, the study's lead author, "but at this point we don't have a clue about the impact of all this media." The researchers, of course, want more research, focused mainly on all the problems that electronic media consumption might cause, ranging from cognitive impairment to obesity.
The AAP's Rich not only concedes that research so far has not demonstrated a difference "between kids raised on media and those raised on more interactive play." He also says, "I don't think we'll ever have (those) data." But a lack of evidence will not stop his organization from issuing edicts that imply most people cannot be trusted to raise their own children.