Mar 192012

As watching television means they are not playing with a parent or engaging with or developing motor skills through playing with toys. This was released way back in 1999, but re-released by the American Academy of Pediatrics in October, 2011. I’m getting this information from this New York Times article.

This topic is a sore spot for many parents because television is such a great distraction for a few vital minutes while mommy/daddy need to accomplish something without distraction.

The reason I mention this is because I have noticed that there have been different times where Thomas has gone through periods where if he sees the television he won’t tear his eyes off of it unless we block his view with our hand or physically move him; then there are other times where he will seemingly ignore the television for months.

Currently we are in the stage where Thomas may look at the TV for a few seconds, but rarely does he sit and stare at it.

Around two months old Thomas would see the television and look at it in wonderment. He would stare and stare until we blocked his eyes with our hands, then he would grunt in displeasure and require a distraction so he wouldn’t fuss.

This behavior of becoming a television zombie lasted until about the fifth month. This was when Thomas could sit up on his own and really play with his toys on his own. Since the fifth month Thomas hasn’t really been interested in television. Sure he will stare at it for a minute, but he would much rather play with his toys. I’m sure this is just another phase and soon he will be back to the television zombie baby that the American Academy of Pediatrics is so worried about.

The one issue that I took from this article that I do not like is that any background noise from a television could be harmful to the speech development of a child. I suppose their argument is that less interaction with an adult means less speech interaction and that can slow down the process of learning speech. Having a TV on in the background distracts the parent and the child so there won’t be as much speech interaction going on… while I can buy this from a theoretical standpoint, IE those arguments seem possible to me, I think I have to worry about my own sanity a little bit as well.

Since I also care about myself, I leave the TV on during the day and Thomas and I play all day long. I don’t plant him in front of the television as his babysitter by any means but he may watch a combined 5 minutes of TV a day, I’m not concerned about this. I’m not going to do anything that knowingly is harmful to his health, but as there are no definitive or long-term studies on any of the effects of media on children, I feel OK with how we are handling the TV.

I do worry about how much TV he will watch as he gets older but at the same time I look forward to enjoying cartoons with him. Catch 22 I suppose.

Have thoughts on this topic? Please leave a comment and share them!

(Our living room, which we just re-arranged to be more open for when Thomas starts crawling/walking)

  45 Responses to “Children Under Two Shouldn’t Watch Any Television…”

  1. As an old parent with grand kids older than Thomas I understand your dilemma. When my sons were young they didn’t watch that much television. As they got older it became more and more of a temptation.The only time it became an issue was when they entered teen-dom,and we merely set limits. Kids need limits and I think they expect their parents to be adults and set them.We played quite a lot of board games as an alternative to family TV time. You appear to have your head on straight so I think you will know what to do and how to do it when the time comes. And watching Saturday morning cartoons with your son is a trip.

  2. I had the TV on a lot more when my oldest (now 8) was under a year. She has a great vocabulary even now, but I did freak out over how much I had the TV on in the background and stopped cold turkey on her first birthday. I missed having time to get things done, especially after my youngest gave up naps when he was 2. My kids now 4 and 8 get to pick one 1/2 hour video a day. The youngest essentially gets an hour of TV a day. When the weather is nice, the kids want to be outside all the time so the TV stays off. They get to watch saturday morning cartoons and when March Madness is on, they get to watch as much basketball as they can tolerate.

    For a while, I switched to the radio as background noise, but realized it wasn’t much better than TV when my four year old daughter asked “mommy, what does rape mean?”

    Great that Thomas ignores the TV for the most part!

  3. I see your living room is taken over by Thomas’ things :)
    In the evening my husband and I watch TV. After a long day of work it’s nice to just veg out. Right now my 2 month old, Jasper, is in the “TV Zombie” phase but, since during the day he often plays and coos to his toys and while we’re watching TV we often will ignore whatever we’re watching and play with Jasper, I’m really not that concerned. Like you said, it’s likely a phase. They’re fascinated by the moving colors and pictures and as long as the parent isn’t using the TV as a babysitter I don’t see it causing any harm. The real TV problem is going to pop up when they’re OLDER than 2 :)

    • I think what I have the biggest issue is with the American Academy of Pediatrics releasing these statements is that there are no academic studies to back up there findings. Of course it doesn’t take much to get to the thoughts that watching TV may hinder development of a baby, I think most parents get that. But the scare tactics are what I find unnecessary (at least for me, perhaps they are necessary for others?).

  4. Our own kids were raised without TV. There was a VCR set up in the barn studio where we watched occasional movies together, but in the house itself there was no electronic presence.

    Interestingly, when our kids were over at others’ houses, they glommed onto the TV of their host, and while the child of the household was oblivious to the sound and noise and activity, ours couldn’t tear away from it.

    “That’s because you don’t let them watch ENOUGH television,” one mother told me. “You really should let them watch more; then it won’t matter as much.”

    Such a peculiar idea.

  5. I agree with keeping your sanity. I can’t stand the quiet. That’s a lot of the reason why I probably won’t send my kids away to the grandparents for days at a time anymore. I like the noise in the background. My daughter doesn’t really watch it, but if I turn it off, she definitely notices. Unless we are outside playing, the tv usually stays on and the kids still play without watching. She likes to sing to the songs (even though real words don’t come out yet) she gets the beat at least. As for my son, he could care less about the tv. He doesn’t even want to be indoors. I don’t agree with the study. I think you have to do what is best for you and know that whatever you are doing with your kid, you are always looking out for their best interest. No worries here :)

  6. Man. With a three year old and now a four month old, sometimes it’s just easier to let the video ride. As a semi stay at home/work from home dad, I know at those times when the youngest is napping an i need to prep a meal or clean, it’s video time. Also though, with computers, smart phones, and all sorts of media, it just gets tougher and tougher. Living in the PNW doesn’t help either as we are inside from Nov-Apr due to rain:). While I don’t think I’m killing my kid, I do hate how much of a power struggle it is to keep all media off in the house. Sometimes I wish I could be like that guy who shot his kids laptop without going my kid future psychological damage.

    The other side of the coin is, how is daddy going to know what is going on with the Seahawks if Sportscenter isn’t on?

  7. My children (4 and 6) are not big television watchers. They never have been. They would much rather play, read, paint, talk to me, etc. than watch television. That said, they do have a few shows that I keep on the PVR for those occasions when I just need a few minutes (maybe even half an hour) to do something else. We also (until recently, because they’re older and interested in shows on other networks) avoided networks that had tons of commercials (it’s insane how well my son can recite a commercial back to me now that he’s watching The Discovery Channel).

    Anyway, I read this a few years ago (the whole chapter, this is just an excerpt) and found it really interesting. Essentially, children won’t watch if they’re not interested in/understanding what they’re watching:

    • I read the excerpt, wish I could read the whole thing before replying… So there was a lot of science into the show in the 1960’s and they found kids don’t like (or were bored) of scenes with adults on “the street” when no fantasy was present (puppets). Very interesting really…

      That chapter doesn’t go into how well the kids learned, or talk about children under two years of age (as they address “preschool aged” kids).

      But what I think you were trying to point out is that if what is on TV isn’t interesting (like Fox news for example) perhaps the kids won’t watch it anyways because it would be boring to them. Wow… Guess I had to write that one out to get there… Thanks for posting!

      • Yep. And my kids have never sat in front of a television show that didn’t interest them. Put the Food Network on, they’re off doing something else.

        I had a babysitter (*had*) who used to try to just put them in front of the television but couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t watch. They won’t watch if they’re not interested in/understanding it.

        You’re right, though, the article doesn’t address children less than 3 years, and I don’t know that there’s any solid science that does address long-term effects (ethical issues, likely, to just planting infants in front of televisions for long periods of time).

        Bottom line, occasionally parents need to use something as a quick distraction so they can get other things done. If putting them in front of the television for 10 minutes is the worst thing a parent is doing, that parent is doing far better than most.

        • As I mentioned, I think part of the reason Thomas doesn’t become a TV zombie is because he loves playing with his toys and another part is that I watch the news most of the day, so that is probably boring to him. If the TV is on something else I see him gazing at it more frequently… I’m one of those parents that listens to their music or shows in the car (news)… but I wonder how long that will last until I have Toddler Tunes blaring out of my truck just to keep him away from a tantrum melt-down…

  8. We tried our hardest to follow the AAP recommendations. At home it was pretty easy for us because we don’t watch all that much TV, and when Miles was a baby we actually got rid of cable and moved the TV out of the main living room. Grandma’s house was another story… :) She doesn’t have much for a toddler to do so I didn’t mind letting him watch Sesame Street as a 1 year old when we went over to visit.

    Now that he’s two we let him watch up to 90 minutes a day. Or less. It still helps that we don’t have cable – so he sees DVDs and youtube, commercial-free. We don’t watch anything for ourselves until he goes to bed, unless there’s a game on that my husband wants to see and that’s fine.

    Even though some would probably see us as a bit strict on these rules, I don’t actually believe it’s that terrible to let kids see family friendly TV. I’m not entirely convinced that they don’t learn language from it. My son isn’t much of a talker, despite his limited TV viewing, but he has definitely picked up words from Elmo videos and electronic toys, so that kind of makes me question the research.

    • Erin, thanks for the reply. I’m sure there are many families that don’t set limits like you do (and kudos to you for doing so). I think any parent that is taking the time to monitor and be active in their child’s life should be able to see when the TV is a substitute for the natural interactions that children need and require.

  9. For me the real concern is what they are watching and commercials.Also, you have to differentiate between watching and being on in the background where is not reallly a focus. I think it is one thing to let them watch any mindless crap lots of commercials but a totally different thing for them to watch an educational video with no commercials. If what they are watching something geared toward children and that gives you 20 mintues to accomplish something in the house you need to get done then go for it and don’t feel bad about it.

    • Emily L, I agree that there are just times where the parent needs to get things done and some engaging TV is OK for that. I know that a message such as the one the AAP puts out needs to be a bit strict and easy to digest otherwise people won’t heed it, but by being so non-specific on responsible parents they allow themselves to get picked apart by those same parents.

      Thanks Emily L, for the reply.

  10. Eh, I don’t think its bad in moderation. My kids watch an hour or so in the morning with breakfast and then later when its quiet time in their rooms. It has to be age appropriate, but Dora and Thomas are not going to destroy My kids lives. My daughter also has hearing loss and wears hearing aids, but having the Tv on a few hours a day has done nothing to slow her speech development. In fact she is ahead of most kids in her preschool.

    • Entirely correct, TV must be age appropriate and right now nothing is appropriate for Thomas, which is OK because he isn’t interested in the TV that much and would rather play with his toys.

      I think its wonderful your daughter is ahead of most kids in her preschool! Kudos to her and to you!

      • What about “Your Baby Can Read” ? :)

        • I happened to be walking around the store yesterday and saw that series and that it included DVD’s and had the same thought. I know that the last time I checked Amazon reviews for that program it seemed like people were either 100% for it or 100% against it and not many in middle.

  11. We struggle with this as well. As a teacher I really struggle with it. L is almost 2 and is in daycare, so for most of the day he is not infront of a tv. When the tv is on in our house, it’s usually on the Sprout Channel. We have a few favorites such as Super Why (which is a beginning reader tv show) which L adores and the Wiggles (they’re growing on me) and a few other “chill out” tv shows before bed. Otherwise, we really don’t use the tv much- but what we DO is put on the toddler music channel (through our Time Warner Cable) so there is music in the background, but nothing to really watch). I will admit that the tv is my friend in the morning as I get ready to go to work- but sometimes you just do what you have to do. What matters is the time spent engaging with your kid. When he’s older, I’m sure you’ll get outside and play. I think everything in parenting is a dilemma. I always say- you know you’re doing it right because it’s hard.

    • Ha.. indeed parenting is hard! Each day a challenge, each new age and development cycle, while an exciting milestone, a new obstacle for the parents to figure out how to handle.

      I’m fortunate that we at least go out each day and spend a few hours out of the house. Once the weather is a little better I hope to spend even more time! In fact right now his meal times take so long that it feels like I can’t get out of the house before 1pm between feeding and naps…

      Thanks for the reply!

  12. Good posts all!
    The same debate raged when my kids were little. My daughters as youngsters had to put up with a full time working Mom and Dad…so there was some educational TV, as I quickly got my act together…dinner etc…and if they had great grades and attitude they had more choices as they got older….
    It really matters what your situation is. Like one gentleman said, sometimes you just need a few minutes….
    and single Moms and all get a pass…whatever you need…..
    Looking back, I have to say I think most Moms my age would have given anything for real partners (laundry, cooking, cleaning,diapers) like you guys……

    …..Now I have the little grands and we have created a pretty stuctured day(because I don’t have to do their laundry,etc., and we have the magic radio, (Raffi on Pandora) indoors and out. That way I have a little background noise and they are not glued to anything. The little ones usually get a show or movie on rainy days, but we make it an event. We use great kid movies as a time to discuss parts of a story. Who were the characters? What problem did they have? Was there an adventure? Suspense?
    How did it all work out in the end? I’m telling you, my five year old grandson can talk about these things, he will blow his Kindergarten teachers mind!
    In addition, If it is your child who wants a little down time with a familiy friendly show like Calliou, Mickey Mouse or George, etc….I don’t think it will hurt them. My grandaughter sometimes needs a bit of time, then rejoins the happy chaos.

    • Melinda,

      Once again you share how to take things a step further than I had thought! Thomas isn’t yet ready to watch and enjoy movies with us but being able to describe the plot, plight, and characters allows the kids to put some critical thought into what they just watched… I didn’t use much critical thought until college……….

      Thanks as always

  13. My now 14 year old never watched TV. At 18 months of age, he had to have stitches and the hospital nurse asked us was DVD he would like to watch. It was his first time seeing Winnie the Pooh. He was in Preschool before we began watching PBS. He was our first and we did everything by the book. Our children still do not watch TV. They are on the computer, doing games, etc. But it is not a huge part of our life. Having said that, when my now 3 year old (4th child) was a couple of months old, his father and i joked, “Shouldn’t you be into watching TV by now?” It is a regular thing for the 3 year old to hop into our bed around 6:30am and while we get a few extra winks, the 3 year old watches Curious George and much of the PBS line up :) By 9 am when the kids are out to school, the TV is off and we are set for our day. This will be the last of it until perhaps a quick diversion while i make dinner — but not that often. It is a unique thing to ‘grow’ into watching TV. I know that I grew up on it with great intensity….it was rarely off. At our house, it is rarely on. Use your best judgement. Having the TV on or off will not create or disseminate the super genius that your child already is.

    • Bjyork, thanks for sharing how TV is in your household! I know most new parents are going to worry about these things (like I am, hence why I put a post up about watching TV). I guess it just feels good to hear (repeatedly) that the best thing is to use your best judgement, use moderation, and be active and engaged in your child’s life :)

      Thanks for the comment!

  14. Like anything, moderation is what I think is the key. TV all day, sure, not such a good thing, like ice-cream all day, not that healthy. We restrict our daughter to a minimum of TV, which works fine. A total ban, for our family, is not workable. I find as kids get older and more opinionated, banning something can lead to craving it. (I will draw the line at smoking, thought lol). We would rather have our daughter watching a bit of TV, then moving on to other activities. You clearly are keeping your son stimulated and not substituting you for TV. I also agree, a few minutes peace to do some necessary tasks is a good thing.

    • Tim,

      Thanks for the reply. I’m in a lucky situation that I am home all day with Thomas and we stay active and engaged in different things. Sure some days are harder than others, but we are always able to go out and experience different places and things to change it up. Of course I may write a follow-up to this in six months or a year talking about how Thomas is glued to the TV…

  15. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Check my blog (and thanks for the visit and “like” today!) for posts about kids and tv. There are a few pediatricians out there who study and document the effects of modern tv on brain development, not just linguistic. Here’s one:
    and another:

    The first has a TED talk with the doc who has pioneered this research. One of the cool findings: it’s the rate of screen changes that has the most effect. Old-school tv we watched as kids (i.e. Mr. Roger’s) literally doesn’t affect kids the same way modern cartoons do. His research on 4 year old kids (I have one) and what cartoons do to their behavior is frightening. We’re raising a bunch of kids who can’t handle the mundane pace of daily life because they expect–their brains crave–flashing motion all the time. We noticed a big difference in behavior when we canked tv completely last year. It’s not easy. But with a little patience, the reward is great–her creative ability is markedly different from most of her peers. Granted, I say this in the midst of my kid being incredibly sick while my husband is deployed. I capped out after 25 books on the couch. We’ve watched more tv in the past 3 days than we have the past 3 months. But that said, it’s slow old-scholl (Mr. Rogers, Caillou, Madeline and Babar) animation. And then the tv will conveniently break again once she’s well ; )

    • pjMom,

      Thanks for the links and providing another interesting tidbit to the discussion. While slightly off-topic, I realized that cartoons today don’t mimic the cartoons of my childhood and I don’t like them. Perhaps I’ll keep it simple when I do some cartoons with Thomas (along with educational shows). Of course this is a while from now, but I still look forward to it.

      I will check out those studies and the TED talk (isn’t TED amazing?)

      • TED is amazing. It isn’t limited to cartoons once you start looking for it. One of the examples in the TED talk was a “Baby Einstein” video. It was laughable. The images zoom so quickly no child would have a chance to focus let alone engage what’s in front of him.

        We didn’t do tv before 2 and even after, we’ve kept it strictly limited. And btw, Amazon has Mr. Rodgers ; )

        • I’ll have to see if Mr Rodgers still airs on TV at all so I can record it if it does… that might save some money too.

          So far we’ve enjoyed the baby Einstein toys as they do seem to captivate his attention (we have a music one) but there are so many flashing lights that I wonder if he is just in a trance…

  16. I am home all day with my daughter and I watch my almost 3 year old nephew 2-4 days a week. The TV is on a lot during the day, but Kayla (16 months) doesn’t pay much attention to it. She has certain things she likes, such as theme songs and songs in commercials, so she’ll stop and dance. She has a few cartoons that she likes, but she normally won’t watch more than a few minutes of it before she’s back to playing and getting into everything. She has always liked certain shows and songs, but she really hasn’t had much of a TV zombie stage. It’s probably because the TV is on so much in our house that she doesn’t pay much attention to it. It’s not a big lure to her because she’s so used to it. Everyone in our house is on different schedules, so we all have things we like to watch at different times of the day. My mom (who live with us) works nights, so she watches TV in the morning. I have cartoons on in the background during the day. My husband and I both have evening shows we like to watch on certain days. Plus, my husband and I like to watch a show together at night. Kayla is so busy playing and chasing after her three dogs, she is not very interested in what’s on TV.

    We are very careful about what we watch with her around. No more HBO shows for us. Kayla has a great vocabulary and she says a lot more than some of her cousins who are older than her by 6 months to a year. But then again, I also talk to her all day long, we read numerous books everyday, she is around her cousin who is older, and I try to expose her to new things all the time. Pretty much since she was born, I’ve talked to her all the time and read books to her. My husband thought I was nuts when I would talk to her and ask her questions she couldn’t respond to yet. I explained that’s how kids learn. You have to talk to them, ask them questions and give them options, and teach them appropriate responses. I also explained how important reading to your kids is for their development. Now that he sees how well she is doing with speaking and comprehension, he no longer questions my methods. :)

    • Jenny W-K,

      When I was working, I would come home and hear my wife talking to Thomas while he was only 1-2 months old. I didn’t really get it at all because as you said… they can’t talk yet, they don’t know what to make of the questions or anything. I had the same exact thought process that your husband did.

      Well now fast forward almost four months of me being home every day with Thomas and I talk to him and ask him questions constantly, while we are home, while we are shopping, while in the car. People around me think I’m crazy sometimes, honestly I get looks like they just called the burly guys in all white with the straight jacket. The best part now is that Thomas can respond, even though what he says is “Gah!” or “bababbababa”.

      • What’s so great is as Thomas keeps getting older, the more and more he’ll respond and he’ll know what responses he should use. Kayla has been telling me for a few months now when she is all done eating. She’ll do the hand gesture I taught her and say “all done” because that’s what I have been asking her since she was very young. The first time she did it, I just wanted to grab her and hug her. But this happens all the time now where she responds to questions, gives her opinions, and she’ll do things I ask her to do. People still look at me like I’m crazy sometimes when we’re out when I’m talking to her, but I don’t care. They can haul me away to the padded room if they want. LOL. I know these little things make a huge difference in development.

        And as one of the other people said who commented, I also use the TV shows she does like to reinforce things. I sing the songs from those shows and ask her the questions from the shows. For instance, she loves Minnie Mouse and loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I sing the songs from the show with her and we dance together. I have the CD from the show in my car. Today, the an episode we were watching asked the viewers if you see Minnie anywhere. Once the show went off, I asked Kayla where Minnie is at in our living room. She started pointing Minnie out on her shirt, on her chair, and bringing me her Minnie dolls. It’s really about making the shows into a learning experience, and not just letting the TV babysit your kid(s) all day. Well, that’s just my humble opinion.

        • Turn every situation into a teaching and learning situation! Of course I think that perhaps the show was also trying to get kids to point out Minnie EVERYWHERE so you could buy Minnie.. perhaps branding, but that may be my business background… (and thinking that everyone has an agenda)

          • LOL. Well, she does point out Minnie when we’re out shopping too. Whether she gets anything with Minnie on it depends on the day. :)

  17. This is an ongoing conversation in our house…and in my head! We absolutely use television as a parenting tool to engage our son much in the same way that we use books. We watch the programs with him, interact by asking him questions (& by answering the questions these interactive programs ask their viewers), we sing the songs all day, utilize & repeat the concepts they teach (like giving instructions in 3 simple steps or referring to a learning situation that a beloved character was in, i.e. sharing or calming down), and avoid exposing him to adult content.

    My almost-2 year old has a rich vocabulary and a level of comprehension that still surprises us. We read to him constantly, have always spoken to him in ways that promote his acquisition of language, expose him to various learning environments, and keep him physically activity (which, of course, isn’t hard at all)!

    It’s all about balance. As much as I fretted about his being too absorbed in tv, I see the same level of concentration when he’s playing with his cars. Being at home with my son most of the time, I can’t imagine not having tv/dvds as an option to engage him while I tend to all the tasks that LIFE requires. I’m certainly open to new ideas and know that as he gets older and more independent, the easier it’ll be to set more limits on his viewing time. Toddlerhood can be a rollercoaster–with nursing, teething, separation anxiety, etc.–so I’ll utilize every tool necessary to ease the ride!

    • The fret and worry is bad… is this mommy guilt? errr… daddy guilt? Constantly worrying that maybe I/we are doing something wrong that may have a negative impact on our child’s life? I sure could do without this…

      Thanks for the reply Tara!

  18. 2 years, I wish. The recommendation in Swedish is no TV or computer until 3! God help me. My daughter is twenty months and she does watch TV. Don’t tell.

    • Won’t tell! But do you know if there is any science that backs up the reasoning why? Any academic studies? I’d be interested to read them :)

  19. My daughter gives her boys one hour of “screen time” a day–whether computer or tv.

  20. I have three awesome kids. Home schooling them all ( ages 14, 13, and 9).
    They have all watched some tv from an early age. Things like Blues clues, Dora, dragon tales, Pokemon (oops!) and the electric company to biz kids and now they watch other shows.
    All three were speaking in complete sentences using polysyllabic words by age 18 months or so. When they weren’ t sleeping, the adults in their lives ( my husband, my parents, my sister and I) spoke with them … like diarrhea of the mouth conversations. so they had strong vocabulary from the word go. They all love to read and express themselves clearly. they can speak about politics and current events. they love speaking with others( people of every age). If anything the TV was the equalizer.
    you seem to be balancing it all well… I would not worry about the negative impact of TV. :)

  21. […] yesterday she started talking about something she saw on Curious George (who says TV is bad for kids?) something about a circle or a curve and then a hole and a line with a flurry of hand motions.  A […]

  22. I just saw this post. I’m surprised so few of your commenters pointed you to research on this subject–there’s a lot. I linked to several research-based articles in my post on babies and television. My son watched very little before 2 years old. He’s 7 now, and we are really glad we restricted TV when he was little and have limited it since. My post explains some other ways to keep a baby busy while you get stuff done.

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