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Why TV for Children Under Two is a Bad Idea

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Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure…

By Posted Oct 25, 2011

Kids Watching TV Researchers are using the scientific approach to establish what many parents know intuitively – children under two years of age should not be watching TV.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently released a policy statement which advises parents of the potential harm to babies watching TV, videos and other passive forms of media.

This policy statement reaffirms the 1999 statement with respect to media use in infants and children younger than 2 years and provides updated research findings to support it. This statement notes:

  1. There is a lack of evidence supporting educational or developmental benefits for media use by children younger than 2 years.
  2. The potential adverse health and developmental effects of media use by children younger than 2 years.
  3. Adverse effects of parental media use (background media) on children younger than 2 years.

The AAP estimates that the average one-year old is exposed to 1 – 2 hours of screen time per day. Some programming is targeted specifically at the ‘infant/toddler’ age group, and well-intentioned parents may see this as beneficial.

The findings of this study include:

Imagery does not get through to young children.

Researchers noted that children do not distinguish imagery on TV screens the way older children and adults do. To a young child, the TV screen is more of a glowing box. This may help insulate young children from the many disturbing scenes on TV which are unavoidable. (Even ‘family viewing’ channels often carry commercials with violent or inappropriate imagery for young children.) But it also means that programming aimed at this young demographic is not delivering the benefits to young viewers which parents may expect.

May discourage speech development.

“When the TV is on, the parent is talking less. There is some scientific evidence that shows that the less talk time a child has, the poorer their language development is,” according to Dr. Ari Brown, a member of the AAP. Studies cited in the guidelines say that parents interact less with children when the television is on, and that a young child at play will glance at the TV — if it is on, even in the background — three times a minute.

Link between early TV exposure and later attention problems.

A report released in 2003 by the AAP concludes that there is a link between early TV viewing and hyperactivity and attention disorders in later developmental years. Specifically, 10 percent of over 2500 children who viewed TV daily between the ages of 1 and 3 years had attention problems at age 7. While these findings are inconclusive, the AAP called the findings “concerning”.

May interfere with sleep.

While supporting research is needed, a 2005 report from the AAP points to a link between TV viewing and irregular sleep schedules among children under the age of three years. Although the actual consequences of TV-induced sleep problems require further study, every parent knows that uninterrupted sleep is precious for both the child and the parent!

The current AAP policy statement is by no means a stand-alone report. The report notes that over the past 12 years there have been over 50 studies on the effects of media influence on babies and toddlers, and the consensus indicates that children under the age of two do not understand actions presented through on-screen media.

A few thoughts which are not addressed in the AAP report also have a bearing on this discussion. When visiting the home of my close friends, who are excited about being new grandparents, I couldn’t help but notice the changes they made to the living room. Their daughter and son-in-law were visiting for a week, with 8 month old child, and the room had been “child-proofed”.

The heater was blocked by a few large cushions on the floor, the cat food and water bowls were set out on the porch, the stairs were fenced off and everything on the tables was pushed in towards the middle so nothing could be pulled off the edges.

But the jolly jumper was set up directly facing, and within a few feet of the TV. This way the child, like the adults, would face the center of attention in the room – the TV.

TV is not the center of the universe.

Babies are smarter than we give them credit for. When the family is seated and focused directly at the TV, it gives the child the message that TV is an all- important, central point of interest. And while there are many wonderful programs available on TV, the pervasive influence of media today may make longstanding impressions on young minds. Media is largely consumer driven, and our notions about consumption can be influenced at an early age. If we want our children to embrace the values of sustainable living, care must be taken to limit their exposure to marketing messages which compete with our teaching that restraint is part of being responsible consumers.

Our children grew up without TV in the home. Evenings and free time was filled with other activities and there was never a shortage of interesting ways of spending the time together. The children never longed for TV. Now that we are older and have the benefit of perspective, I see how fleeting the early childhood years are, and how precious this time is for parent/child bonding. Young parents have competing demands for their time, and have to balance their jobs or career with building a home and family, and hopefully leave some time for personal development. It is so easy to use the TV as a babysitter. But my feeling is that time spent with children when they are young builds a lifetime of rewards for child and parent, and any time you can substitute TV with personal interaction is time well spent.


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  • Grace

    Absolutely! I am an early childhood educator, and unstructured play is the best thing for a child. Even the Baby Einstein company had to refund (if the customers asked) all the money for their products because watching them is actually more harmful to the child than not watching them.

  • johnc

    Maybe they could watch but with tight parental guidance! Educational programs are not bad right ? Even if they're small,they are smarter and would want to learn more.

  • wikky

    I will agree with your opinion, although it is difficult to get some free time for our home and family but we should keep a balance in our work and family…
    children needs our attention, and it is their right to give them time..

  • Pat

    As I sit here with my laptop, our year-old niece is sitting on the sofa staring at the TV screen with a blank face and open mouth. I wonder what she is thinking?
    Even if she doesn't understand the message, the sounds are obnoxious.

  • I have seen this sort of study before, that its not good for the most young kids to be seated in front of the TV like many toddlers are. Unfortunately I think there are a lot of parents out there not heeding this advice.

  • It all comes down to parents wanting to entertain their children themselves without the help of electronic devices. How much effort can people be bothered to put in? If you want your kids to be smart then put it the time with them.

  • I definitely agree with this. At such a young and impressionable age, I think the parent and child should be interacting as much as possible with regards to education because it's not just the child that is learning new things.

    • Greg Seaman

      "…because it's not just the child that is learning new things."

      Good point!

  • Considering the violence that nowadays cartoons have I will not allow my children to watch TV. I will rather buy them cartoons that I consider proper.

  • bali seminyak villa

    Not all TV programs are bad, some of them are created especially for kids to educate them in different way. They just need more attention and guidance from their parents during watching it.

  • nicky

    Absolutely ! I will agree with your opinion. TV for Children Under Two is a Bad.
    Nice blog,I read your whole blog.this is very interesting.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Eti sharma

    But what we do if the home is not as huge as a child want to play and roads are not safe as we know? There is no option in this situation.

  • Norgesautomaten

    Nice thinking.But for this we have to provide child a area where they can play or make there interest in activities which enhance there intelligent. Thanks for sharing this.Keep it up..

  • Blake

    You're absolutely right! I also have a niece who's only 2 years old and we didn't let her watch TV too much.

  • Pumpkin

    This is indeed true but I tend to be a little straight up with this…since the last decade media, internet, tv, PC, you name it has had the worse influence on the new generation…it`s like all the ussual things that a child should be doing at a certain age are misplaced.

    • Greg Seaman

      I agree entirely.

  • Best Gifts For Boys

    This is definitely true. TV may well be the reason for the frightening increase in ADD rates in the student population of elementary schools these days. Thanks for the heads up.

  • As a new mother to a 5 weeks old baby, I was considering educational materials for my baby when I come across this. I have always known that watching tv for kids under 2 is bad but have no idea why that is so. Thanks for explaining it so thoroughly.

  • ThomasNet

    I just think that putting your toddler in front of the TV is a lazy way of parenting. Yeah, they'll stare at it, but at what cost? Read a book. Play in the leaves. Do something other than just sitting them in front of the TV.

  • I agree. To live and not look out the window, how others live. And teach children to live a full life, rather than sit in front of TV. Especially because there are few useful shows … Violence, sex, disasters and other people’s lives…

  • Apellierre

    I totally agree that TV-set watching has a very crucial influence on the children`s minds. Actually I have some problems with attention. I cannot concentrate for a very long time. But I have no problems with speech 🙂
    I think it must be some organic symbiosis in using TV in casual life. It must`t be some taboo and it not tend to be a fetish. It is a usual subject at home so treat it such way.

  • TSO

    I think TV makes people dumb in general. I think your brain needs exercise just like every other part of your body. When you watching TV, it really takes on brain power. You just soak it up. There no real engagement going on. 

    I don’t think anyone would disagree that TV is bad for kids. However, people are just so stressed out now a days, there just ill equipped to deal with kids. So, they turn them over to the electronic babysitter. When we were younger, you could go outside and turn your back on a kid for 5 seconds and they would still be there. Now, taking them outsides seems like a risk. It’s really sad. 

  • Tessie

    Dr.Christa Herzog
    I  agree that TV-set watching has a very crucial influence on the children`s minds. Instead watching TV give them religious books like bible story.Thank you for posting this article. It is very helpful and interesting.  

  • I wouldnt have a 4 year old watch tv to be honest

  • Marwan ElSafty

    A very good article!!!!!! Almost everyone should read!!!!! Only children wont read it!!!!!
    I believe that there are more that kids or children should not do!!!!

  • Very good post. Actually  TV viewing can be harmful for the little one
    below 2 years. The TV doesn’t give out any useful stuff for the toddlers. It might
    in turn lead to many disorders in the kids like lack of sleep, eyesight
    problems and slow brain development. It is surprising to know that it has
    effects on speech also!

  • sengiyumva

    This post is very interesting and helpful for we parent with children under 3yrs

  • zeedha

    Its really sad news that TV has effects language development. I already faced this problem. and now I want to know the way I can make my child talk soon. he’s now age 2yrs 1mnth. can any one help me.

  • CNB

    I should add that I am a work at home mom, but I work at nights when shes asleep as I spend entire days with her doing stuff and watching her programs. It makes it more beneficial if you are there so she can ask questions and interact with you. I know that not many parents have this luxury, but I think that is why my child is so smart. her favorite song is “come, now is the time to worship” and she sings it from start to finish. she says her prayers and we understand her when she says stuff. if you don’t understand she takes your hand and shows you what she is talking about.

  • CNB

    Oh, and she turns it off when she is done, or if she is going outdoors.

  • It’s great to hear of your success with this precocious child. I think your presence has been invaluable to her development.
    There are many useful programs for childhood development on the web, but it takes an involved parent to help steer the child and provide input and feedback.
    Thanks for your comment, it provides balance and perspective to this article.

    • CNB

      Thank you.

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