Is TV bad for babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under two years old not watch TV.  TV and similar media “have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years,” the official statement says.

The science on the subject

Media viewing is correlated with delayed language development. A study of babies who watched baby DVDs and videos found a 16.99-point drop in language development for every hour per day a baby spent in front of a screen.

Studies have also shown connections between infant media use and attention disorders, as well as sleep problems. These consequences are severe enough that it doesn’t make sense to let babies watch TV.

What about educational programs? “To a baby, television is a stream of 2-dimensional pictures that change about every 6 seconds and have no apparent connection to each other, to the sounds coming from the same direction, or to real people and objects,” the Urban Child Institute explains.  “Before a child can learn from television, he must be able to connect these images into a meaningful whole.”

Babies’ brains are wired to learn from human interactions. Studies show that parents interact with their kids less when the TV is on.

Why babies should not watch TV

  • Babies can’t understand TV. Research on this is pretty clear — early brain development requires real world activity. Banging a wooden spoon on a pan is more educational than watching early math videos.
  • TV distracts babies from play. A study at the University of Massachusetts  found that infants were less likely to engage in imaginative play when there was a TV on in the background. They stayed engaged with play for shorter times, too.
  • Parents interact less with their babies when TV or video is on. Babies learn most from interactions with other people, so this reduction in connected time could be the reason screen-using babies are slower to develop language skills.
  • Babies also have a harder time distinguishing words when there’s background talking, like a TV playing in the background.
  • Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine says that screen time can get in the way of infants’ developing the ability to focus attention and to develop vocabulary. The critical period from ages one to three when infants develop the ability to learn language requires specific kinds of input, mostly from other people. Screen time can’t provide that input. Babies who miss out on it can’t pick it up later.
  • The blue light from TV and computer screens interferes with babies’ sleep cycles.
  • Babies who watch TV and videos often eat in front of the TV. Some studies show a correlation between eating in front of a screen and childhood obesity.

Parents’ use of devices

You’ll notice that a lot of the negative effects of screen time can happen when you have devices on in the background, as well as when babies are actively watching.

Research shows that parents interact less with their babies when they’re using their phones, too.

You’re not going to give up all your screens for 24 months. But you might never have thought about how they can affect your baby. Think about putting your phone away and turning off the TV when you’re with your baby, as much as possible.

So what should you do with your baby?

Truth is, infants don’t have much to say and they can’t really play board games, so what are you supposed to do with your baby?

  • Read books. You can read the Wall Street Journal or your current book club book to your infant and get language development value, but board books are even better. Baby can grab the book and chew on it safely, and the colors and stories are right on target for babies.
  • Play physical games like patty cake and peekaboo.
  • Sing and talk to your baby. Dance, even.
  • Play with toys that encourage large motor skills and sensory play, like blocks and rattles.
  • When you need to put your baby down and get some chores done, go for an activity center. These toys are designed so that baby can play lying down on her back or sitting up with support. They offer different kinds of play experiences in a safe environment.


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