Watch Out: Your Baby and Television

There's no escaping the television. It can reach anywhere - in your bedroom, living room or even in your kitchen. It is all around you…and your baby, too. Your baby grows up seeing the world around her and the TV does not escape her attention. It's no wonder, then, that the effects of TV on a baby have become yet another parenting issue.

Can My Baby Watch TV?
No television. That is what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises. According to the AAP, until more research is done on the effects of TV on very young children, television is not recommended for children under the age of two. Why the harsh stand? After all, there are a number of educational television programs geared towards children under two. These must certainly be okay, right? Not so, says the AAP.

Research on early brain development has found that, in order to have healthy brain growth and the appropriate development of social, emotional, and cognitive skills, it is critical that babies and toddlers have direct interaction with their parents and other significant caregivers.

But it is not just the AAP that is against children watching TV; many child development experts would agree, although they have their own reasons:

  • When you are glued to your TV set, your baby sitting with you becomes a background watcher. This robs the child, in his early years, of precious parent-child interaction.
  • Some studies have found that using TV and videos might displace more interactive and constructive time for learning.
  • Another study, conducted by the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, found that early television exposure in children ages one to three was associated with attention problems at age seven.
  • Because quick scene shifts of video images become "normal" to a baby despite the fact that such shifts are not natural, exposing a baby's developing brain to videos may overstimulate it, causing permanent changes in developing neural pathways.
  • The first two years are a critical time for brain development. TV obstructs exploring and learning - both important to developing the skills babies need to grow cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally.
  • Frightening events on television reduce very young children's sense of security.
  • Babies start babbling when they play but tend to remain quite when watching television. It is possible that background language from TV may structurally interfere with this process of language development.

Not surprisingly, many television critics advocate keeping a baby's room, as well as older children's rooms, free of any type of electronic media. Additionally, the advise not using media as a "babysitter" for your children.

TV is Bad for Babies, Says Who?
According to Zero to Three, a respected Washington-based, nonprofit child-development and advocacy organization, while products, videos, and shows may be fun in moderation, it's important to consider a few things:

  • There is still very little known about the effects of television and other media for children under two.
  • There is no research to date to show that brain development can be accelerated or advanced by any product, show, or toy.

Despite the AAPs recommendation for children under two not to watch television, educational programs geared towards infants are aired on TV and are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the makers of the ever-popular Sesame Street have come out with a new DVD series that is directly marketed to babies and toddlers aged from six months to two years. However, what sets this DVD series apart from other programming is the fact that Sesame Workshop looked to produce DVDs that could help promote development in babies.

Zero To Three recognizes that millions of parents are allowing their babies to watch TV. In an effort to give parents a quality, developmentally appropriate alternative to enjoy with their children, the group partnered with Sesame Workshop on the development of their new DVD series. To help engage their delicate viewers, Zero to Three looked to make DVDs that:

  • promoted interaction between parent and child
  • modeled positive, everyday moments between parents and children
  • illustrated the unique temperament of children and their individual differences
  • provided parents with specific information and guidance about enhancing their everyday interactions with their young children

Let's See What's Good on TV
It might be difficult for you, as an educated parent, to disconnect from the TV world. And you know your baby the best. So, if you let her watch TV, make sure it enhances her learning. Here are some tips to help you decide what kind of TV programs are okay for your baby:

  • Infants are attracted to objects high in contrast. TV programs should have colorful, simple images and concepts that your baby can absorb.
  • There should be no abrupt scene changes. Slow-moving images are best matched to these early stages of development.
  • Turn off the noise factor. Music should be gentle or playful.
  • Watch TV with your child. Children learn most about things from parent-child interaction. Don't let TV come in the way. Name objects on the screen; dance, clap or sing to the music soundtrack. These programs should allow you to interact with your child, not ignore each other.
  • Set a specific TV time. It should be short and sweet. No baby can focus on a television for more than 10-15 minutes.
  • There's no need for a daily TV dose

It doesn't take a study to tell us that some programs can overstimulate babies and are a definite no-no:

  • News programming, sitcoms, anything meant for adults or even older kids can be detrimental to children.
  • Violent programs
  • Kids' cartoons and other programs with an abundance of cuts and fast action.

Television can be addictive, so don't start your child off on the wrong foot at such a young age. Enjoy your time together, interacting with one another instead of in front of the TV. If you just can't switch that TV off, then be sure to choose programming that aims to enhance your child's development.