10 December 2010

Is TV Bad for your baby's brain

According to a just released study, exposing your baby to just 60 minutes of TV per day can cause cognitive delays.   This latest study adds more fuel to a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies under age 2 watch no TV at all.

In my opinion, based on my experience, though, as a parent of four, this is not the whole story. Yes, if you put your baby in front of the TV for much of the day, or even just a short time, and then don't spend any time engaging him in interactive play or talking to him, you are likely to see significant delays.  

However, if you let your baby watch a little TV when you need a few minutes to shower, tidy up, or just have a cup of coffee, but you spend the majority of the day playing with him and talking to him and reading books to him, I think it is unlikely that you will see any problems.

As I've said before, I'm not a doctor, so my opinion has little merit, but I have a lot of experience with this topic, so I do feel I can speak to it with some authority.  As a Navy wife and mom of four sons, including one with high functioning autism, I have used TV as a babysitter more than I'd care to admit.  But, I do engage my kids- constantly.  Like I said, I'm a Navy wife, my husband is away a lot, I've got to talk to someone!   I am kidding, of course, but the point is, that while I permit my children to watch television regularly, I really do spend a lot of time in positive interactions with them.

Though they all have watched quite a bit of TV, they've all read before their fifth birthdays.  One read at age 3 and one at age 4.  They have excellent math skills and have been able to make simple computations from very early ages.  Yes, my eldest son, who has autism, had speech delays, but cognitively, he has tested as gifted from the age of three.

The point of this post is not to say how great my kids are (though they are, of course) but to put your minds at ease.  In my opinion it is OK for little ones to have TV exposure, but you must couple the TV watching with positive interactions with your child.

Run a constant dialog with him.  If you are making dinner, tell him, "I'm taking the pasta off the shelf and now I'm going to put into this water.  The water is very hot, so we have to be careful."  etc...  For older kids, have them do their homework in kitchen while you cook so that you can have some back and forth conversation throughout the process.

It isn't hard to enrich your child's brain and you do not have to deny yourself a shower because your baby will cry.  In the "old days" we all lived close to our families.  We could depend on our parents or siblings or other extended family members to lend us a hand with our kids.  Now most of us live far from family and are basically on our own.  If we spend every waking moment personally entertaining our kids, they will never learn to be independent and find ways to entertain themselves.

I should make a point of saying that you should only let your kids watch age appropriate shows.  You can most definitely cause harm by letting them watch programs that are too mature for their psyches.  But letting your one year old watch  Ni Hao Kai Lan or your preschooler watch Super Why is not going to hurt.

Beware of visually stimulating shows with your younger kids.  Shows that have rapidly changing images and loud noises, including loud music, have been shown to lead to attention issues later.

So, when you need to get something accomplished, don't feel too bad about letting baby watch a little TV.  Put him in a safe place with the TV not too close.  Give him a toy to hold, so he is engaged in more than one way.  Then do what you need to do.  Give yourself a break. It's OK.


  1. So glad I came across this site. I am a proud follower!


  2. OMG...thank you so much!! I completely agree. All my kids watched Baby Einstein from the time they were infant. We always have the TV on, but I can honestly say they do not sit all day in front of it. They come and go. And they love to play outside (although right now their favorite thing to do it build Legos).

    By the age of 2, my 6 year old knew the alphabet and the sounds the letters made (but he did not know the ABC song). By the time he was 3 he was writing and spelling his name. And this year he has been referred to the GT program at school and works with the GT teacher weekly. Now whether he officially qualifies for the program or not is another thing, but the fact that his 1st grade teacher has seen something in him to recommend him in the first couple months of school says a lot. He is reading chapter books completely on his own and can do those huge lego sets all by himself.

    At the age of 2 my 5 year old was doing 50 piece puzzles by himself. He grasps concepts and understands things that constantly amaze me. Now he is reading books independently and can also do those big Lego sets by himself.

    My daughter will be 3 in March. She has this passionate love of books and will sit through a whole Disney book (have you seen how long those are???) and she has been doing this for as long as I can remember. She also loves to color and can sit there and color a picture IN THE LINES. She is not generally a scribbler. She also REALLY loves playing games and will sit (most days) and play a good game of CandyLand, Hi Ho Cherry-O, or Sequence for Kids.

    My kids are wildly imaginative, love to play games, will sit and do crafts or color, and love to run around outside. So far, I see no ill effects from the TV. Not a single delay in sight.

    Now...we eat dinner every night as a family. We play a game every night as a family. We read every night as a family. We let the kids help us do things (like this weekend they helped us paint the basement). They are respectful and kind.

    So, Erin, I thank you for posting this. In my humble opinion, TV is not the devil everyone makes it out to be.