Docs Again Warn Against TV For Kids Under 2

Letting kids under two watch TV doesn’t provide them with any educational benefit and can cut down on the interaction with others and play time that is key to their growth, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns in a new report.

Under the age of two, the report says, children don’t comprehend what happens on the screen and it’s essentially an inscrutable and captivating glowing box.

The report says that every hour a child under the age of two spends in front of a screen, the kid spends 10% less time involved in playing creatively and 50 fewer minutes engaged with a parent.

A version of the report issued 10 years ago was more strident at underlining potential harms to children and told that parents to fill out a “media report card” to give to their doctors. It got a lot of backlash from all quarters. This one is more muted and recommends that doctors discuss setting “media limits” with parents, though it does not go so far as to outline what those limits should be.

Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years [Pediatrics]
Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest [NYT]

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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    But then how will kids know that they
    should eat sugary cereals and cheeze snacks?

  2. Cat says:

    BS. I grew up in front of a TV, and I…

    Oooo! Look! A shiny thing!

  3. legolex says:

    What if I had a kid and plopped it in front of my cat’s Cat Sitter DVD? That can’t do any damage.

  4. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    I think that under the right circumstances, the right kinds of shows can be helpful, or neutral at worst. My daughter had a video tape of kids singing and dancing that she got when she was 14 months. She would watch that thing at least 1 or 2 times a day and quickly learned the songs, motions, and dances. It was fun for her and kept her moving. She also learned to say and read her ABC’s by 18 months b/c of a Sesame Street video called , “Learning about Letters.” I think if you keep the videos active and educational, and limit the time they watch, they are good in moderation. I think they can contribute to learning if used correctly.

    • Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

      My mom tells me that I knew the alphabet before I was 2, and surprised her by telling her that I learned it from Sesame Street.

    • chefboyardee says:

      Disagree. Check the research. She would learn much more if you sang and danced and taught her the songs. Television is nothing but a shiny distraction that keeps them from actually learning anything before age 2. No study whatsoever has shown anything other than “there is no such thing as an educational show for children under the age of 2″.

      I also highly recommend the book “Buy Buy Baby” if you’re interested in how TV before age 2 turns children into miniature consumers. It’s scary.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        “She would learn much more if you sang and danced and taught her the songs. “

        I don’t think anyone is arguing that TV is supposed to or should replace those things.

        I fully admit that we let our children watch about a half hour to an hour of TV a day from a very young age. It was as much a break for us than anything else. While they most definitely did pick up things from Sesame Street, it augmented parenting (and provided a brief respite) than anything else.

        Neither my wife nor I are the super parents that you clearly are.

      • SixOfOne says:

        Here’s my anecdata: My sister would routinely leave her daughters with the tv on, day after day after day. Both of her kids have situational learning disabilities and the oldest, at the age of five, has the vocabulary of a three year old.

        And yes, she is one of those annoying special snowflake moms. D:

      • It'sRexManningDay! says:

        IMO reports like these are in the same camp as warnings for breasfeeding moms to abstain from all alcohol. In order to keep people on the irresponsible end of the spectrum from making really poor decisions, Official Agencies put out guidelines that are absurdly restrictive for otherwise responsible parents. Full-time mommies need to pee, prepare dinner, and do other household things on occasion. If I have to choose between 1/2 an hour of separation-anxiety-induced screaming and 1/2 an hour of (commercial free) children’s programming, then TV wins.

        TV should not be a babysitter, and certainly it is better for kids to learn songs from people rather than a screen. But the occasional short-lived distraction can be a sanity saver; translating into happier, more involved parents.

        • DeathByCuriosity says:

          I have never understood why some moms are so paranoid about leaving a kid alone in a crib for 5 minutes to go pee. Cut the pity party, give them a special toy that you have reserved for times like this (so it’s not boring/old news), and GO PEE! They will be fine! It’s not like you’re leaving them alone to bawl for 20 minutes straight. Help foster self-entertainment and it will go a long way.

          – a SAHM who manages to get a hell of a lot of stuff done during the day without using TV

    • lupinthethird says:

      the continuous changing colors and sounds affect them as they get older to with higher rates or add and learning disabilities because they can’t focus on the boring reality that is the real world class room

  5. axhandler1 says:

    But I thought that was the reason to buy a TV, so you didn’t actually have to parent. Right? I mean, I was planning on letting the TV raise my kids.

    • maruawe says:

      this is the problem that the doctors see. I’m sure that your statement is not entirely true.
      But there are parents out there that do that very thing and this is where the problems lie,
      We all have chores that have to be done each day and don’t have enough time to just sit down with the kids all the time. But to sit a child in front of a TV and go merrily on our way is not the best way either

  6. maruawe says:

    I for one don’t completely believe this report. it seems that doctors want the children to be more active ,which is reasonable, but to say that a child under two should not watch television at all
    does not make a lot of sense. with my children they started to mimic TV voices and gestures before before they were a year old and all four were talking before a year old using words that they picked up from TV, one of the girls was singing with the radio before two. and I will say we restricted their TV watching till after supper and on saturday morning , so it was not a continuous thing . but to dismiss the benefit of sound and action to a child is wrong

    • bennilynn says:

      Yep, because your anecdote is totally just as valid as over a decade of statistical data compiled into a comprehensive peer-reviewed study.

      • benbell says:

        I think the argument here (and I agree) is that the report says children don’t learn anything from TV under 2. I know my 11 month old has picked up songs and cues from Little Einsteins which I have never taught him.

        I understand that TV time takes away from playing and interaction time, but if you are a SAHM or SAHD and spend 100% of every single day with your child, sometimes you have to put them somewhere so you can get things done around the house.

    • chefboyardee says:

      That sound and action should come from you, not the television, period. They would learn at an exponentially greater rate if it came from a parent and not a glowing box. Study the research and it becomes obvious.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I think it comes down to the parent being directly involved, and the degree to which he or she is involved. Reading to your child is better than having your child watch video of someone reading. And taking your child to a play is better than having your child watch video of a play. It’s the parental involvement that is the difference. I don’t have any memories of watching Sesame Street after school, only that I did, but I remember how excited I was the first time my mom took me to the movies.

  7. simonvii says:

    Yet it’s also important to expose your children to as many different words as possible when they’re young, which is much easier when you can put an educational DVD on in the background while they’re playing and you have to clean the house or something. We’ve let our daughter watch cartoons and DVDs most of her life — she just turned 2 — and she talks as well as a 4-year-old. Not only that, but she’d much rather be playing outside than staring at the TV.

    I think the big problem is when parents use the television as a babysitter for long stretches of time, with little to no moderation or involvement. We let our daughter watch shows, but we also spend tons of one-on-one time with her and are constantly trying to find active things to do without the television involved. Still, the language skills and things she learns from educational programming — foreign languages, things about animals and plants, things about geography, etc. — are benefits far above what my wife and I could provide her without.

    • NumberSix says:

      Or just speak to them like a person not a puppy. That works pretty well, but only if you have a solid vocabulary yourself.

  8. Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

    Yet another tool for parents to use to compete against each other, as if somehow they can “maximize” a child’s potential by following all these rules. I’m with my kids all day, and I know exactly how much exposure they get to media, and how it affects them in their daily lives. The article makes it sound like “helpful advice”, but what parent doesn’t know that it’s healthier for a child to be limited in anything that they’re exposed to? This study is going to be primarily used by judgmental people.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I know the feeling. These kind of revelations are great for the super parents to come out of the wood work and explain how every minute of the day is filled with an educational activity.

      It’s all about moderation. I’m willing to bet that while a half hour of Sesame Street may not be the most educational thing in the world, the benefit of a half our respite for the parent far outweighs this.

      My wife and I used to have what we called “walk aways” — basically, if we were alone and the baby was having an uncontrollable freak out and we felt ourselves reaching the breaking point, we’d put the baby in the crib, close the door, and walk away for ten minutes while we regained ourselves. It wasn’t educational nor did it resolve the underlying problem but it allowed us to re-engage the situation logically.

    • elysse says:

      +1. More fodder for the sanctimommies- great, just what we all needed. I can think of nothing more disgusting than the way parents are already pitted against one another over things like breastfeeding.. but let’s take a thing we already know needs moderation (like TV) and use it to make the divide wider.

      I feel terribly bad for the people whose lives are so completely wrapped up in their kids’ that the only way they can feel like they’re doing The Right Thing is to make all other parents feel like shit for not doing the same. Not for now, though.. after their kids are high school/college age and are moving on with their lives, those parents are generally going to be bitter people to be around when they find they don’t have anyone left to helicopter.

    • kathygnome says:

      It’s kind of amazing. We had 20 years of it taking a village to save the children. You’d think it would have had an affect, but I work a lot with Gen Yers and they don’t appear to be some kind of great evolutionary leap forward.

  9. digitalhen says:

    My boy watches the occasional show, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Wiggles… I’m sure it’s not doing him any harm. I’ve also learned that I really enjoy watching the Wiggles and I’m 30.

    I’m doing alright ;)

  10. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    The American Academy of Pediatrics wants parents to fill out a media report card to give to their doctor. It doesn’t matter that it was 10 years ago and they appear to have softened that position due to backlash. They also ardently support Obamacare. Any wonder that a bunch of elitist know-it-alls want you to turn in a report card on yourself so they can grade you on your parenting? Any doubt that the plan is to bring this report card idea right back as soon as Obamacare is implemented to the point that they can start putting such info in a national database?

    This is a brownshirt frontgroup. They can be safely ignored.

  11. pop top says:

    How will I raise my children if I have to interact with them?

  12. Dover says:

    “every hour a child under the age of two spends in front of a screen, the kid spends 10% less time involved in playing creatively and 50 fewer minutes engaged with a parent.”

    Basically, every hour in front of the TV is an hour they’re not doing something else.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      That’s exactly it. The study assumes that TV watching would be replaced with an otherwise educational or interactive activity. If you’re a shitty parent who is strung out on the couch, I really don’t see it making any difference if the kid is watching TV for 8 hours or just thrown in an empty crib.

      Like anything in life, it’s all about moderation.

    • DeathByCuriosity says:

      Yup, the point is that TV isn’t as good as educational toys, books, or interacting with a parent. It’s better than nothing, but there are better things for your child to do.

  13. Yacko says:

    Teletubbies forever!

  14. Outrun1986 says:

    I have to disagree as well, my cousin had the sesame street videos and watched them from a very young age and she is now an honor student and one of the smartest in our school district. Like others she also knew her alphabet very early and was reading before many other kids her age could read. She could also talk in sentences much sooner than other children her age. Even my grandma would disagree with this, she thinks TV is very good for young kids.

    The videos had kids jumping around and having fun, and sometimes a child likes to see other kids jumping around and having fun. A parent can’t provide a group of kids jumping around and having fun at all times, that is just not practical. The videos are also good for repeating things and children will pick up on that. The videos also encouraged her to move around when she was old enough instead of just having her sitting in a chair, she would jump around in front of the TV to the videos instead of just sitting still.

    Now I am not saying plop the kid in front of the box for 8 hours a day with the same videos running over and over. But there are definitely things that age appropriate that can be learned from the TV as long as the parent provides the proper content for the kids to watch.

    Yes the parent could sing and dance and recite the alphabet with their kid all day long but in most cases that is not practical and would probably get quite repetitious for both child and baby. Parents have other responsibilities, they have to cook dinner, which includes food for the baby and the rest of the family and they also have to take showers, wash clothes and keep up with themselves. Suggesting that parents spend every waking moment trying to teach their child things is just simply not practical and leads the parents to neglect themselves which is also bad.

    • chefboyardee says:

      Children under 2 need focused play. They also need to learn how to spend time alone, deal with understimulation, and the like. They do not need to “constantly be learning” and they do not need constant bombardment with media. While mommy is cooking dinner, or daddy is showering, they can be sitting quietly. Not only will that not hurt them, that will teach them things like patience, self discipline and how to entertain themselves.

      By watching tv, even with it in the background, you are taking away from their ability to do so.

      And people wonder why we have such a meteoric rise in cases of ADHD. “I watched TV growing up and I was fine” often comes out of the same mouths of people who can’t sit still or focus on a task for more than an hour or two at a time without getting bored or distractions. What you also don’t realize is that you likely watched TV a lot *after* the age of 2, not before. That is a HUGE distinction to make.

      • tsukiotoshi says:

        I have no memories of my television habits before the age of 2 so I guess I cannot refute that.

        You know what is good for teaching patience? Field studies where you watch a single group of birds for hours on end. Hours. In the cold, wind, and rain. Painstakingly documenting everything they do, or more likely, don’t do. I can do that AND I watched my fair share of TV as a kid.

      • kathygnome says:

        “While mommy is cooking dinner, or daddy is showering, they can be sitting quietly”

        Good luck with that.

        • It'sRexManningDay! says:

          Thank you!

          You try telling my ridiculously active toddler that “it’s quiet time now while Mommy takes a shower!” Some people are lucky to have small children who are content to flip through a board book for 20 minutes or whatever. Other kids, like mine, are not happy unless they are perched on top of the back of the couch, gnawing on large chunks of cardboard (from those oh-so-educational board books) and turning themselves upside down so they can see out the window in between their legs.

          Trip to the ER every other day vs. 1/2 an hour of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?

  15. tundey says:

    Everything in moderation. That’s my motto. My almost 2.5 year old twins watch TV and I don’t think they’ve been harmed by it.

    • chefboyardee says:

      Everything in moderation: agreed. “I don’t think they’re being harmed by it”, disagree. That’s like saying “I don’t think this hair spray is hurting the air, that doesn’t seem logical to me”. We now know much better.

      If you haven’t done or at the very least studied the research you’re just guessing, and in this case guessing wrong. Instinct is not necessarily correct.

      • savvy9999 says:

        “not harmed by it” is technically the the same as “I didn’t beat my 2.5 year-old twins to a bloody pulp because they’re evil hellions and I’m exhausted/outofmymind/doing this alone”.

        So c’mon, give her the benefit of the doubt.

        I let my 21-month old watch a Dora every night before dinner, because my spouse is working and it would be nearly impossible to cook a healthy dinner otherwise (we try to eat very well; very few manufactured foods; fresh everything as much as possible). So the decision boils down to, for 24 minutes, can she watch something she enjoys and sings back to us and learns words from (she does know colors in Spanish by sight now) and at the same time we can eat something nutritious, or should I be playing multi-lingual pat-a-cake with her and us eating take-out or eating some other crap from a heated-up box?

        Everything has a time and a place, while competing for limited resources. We make our own calls about how we are parenting, and I’ll stand behind our decision on this one, every time.

  16. Scamazon says:

    But how else will Corporate America brainwash them and who the hell will I get to babysit my kids while I gab to my friends about mindless dribble or play Angry Birds on my cell phone?

  17. SilverBlade2k says:

    Well strip my circuits and call me a floor lamp!. Who knew that plunking down a 2 yr old in front of a TV to be spoon-fed everything without much effort could actually be harmful to that child’s future interactive skills!

  18. kathygnome says:

    I just read the study conclusions (the actual study–not media coverage). It has a major problem in that it assumes that every minute not spent in front of a TV will be replaced by high quality parent interactions, which it assumes are a limitless resource. Parental attention is not limitless. It’s limited by reality of household chores and also by the psychological well being of the parents.

    Yes, if parents allow a child to watch tv for an hour while they make dinner or do laundry or clean the house, the child will lose 52 minutes of parental interaction. (The 8 minutes probably being the parent checking in with the baby.) But what is the alternative? Dinner has to be made. Is the stuffing the child in the pack n play and letting them wail in some way superior? Because in the real world magical elves are neither going to make dinner or provide high quality engagement with a toddler. Dinner has to be made and it’s difficult to provide high quality engagement with a toddler while breaking down a chicken. (Here honey, lick the raw chicken juice off mommy’s fingers and then you can play with the chef’s knife!)

    It’s good to note that kids shouldn’t spend 16 hours a day blissing in front of the tube. It’s good to note that tv programs are entertainment, not education. But absolutist pronouncements that parents are somehow harming their child because they turn on the Backyardigans while making dinner rather than have the child break down screaming are verging on the lunatic.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      This is my point exactly, they are saying that every minute not spent in front of the TV could be spent doing another educational activity that the parent provides. So in theory they expect the parent to be providing an educational learning experience by interacting with the child one on one for every single minute that the child is awake. They don’t take into account that parents need to spend time away from their child in order to take care of the child and in order to nurture the rest of the family.

  19. Talmonis says:

    This study just furthers the obnoxious whims of competitive parenting.

    “GASP! You don’t have gluten, peanut, sugar, HFCS and MSG free Organic CousCous mixed painstakingly with breastmilk with an ashwood spoon under autum moonlight!? Your child will die in the night!”

    “You put them down in a crib to take a shower!? You’re supposed to have them strapped to yourself in a papoose while scrubbing your loins with a breastmilk infused all organic cherokee hair luffa on a Yew branch! Your child will grow up to be a serial killer!”

    “You stopped dancing a Native American rain dance in the child’s face while reciting the alphabet at the top of your lungs in 3 languages and put the child down to watch that DREADFUL television program to make dinner!? Your child is going to grow up to be a pedophile!”

    Yes, this is how you all sound with your rediculous haranguing of normal parents.

  20. NumberSix says:

    For what its worth; my kid watches no TV and was speaking in full sentences we could understand at 1 and others could understand by 2. He speaks as well as an average 5 year old and is now 3.

    His friend watches TV all the time, is now 3 and can barely string 3 words together that make any sense.

  21. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    My parents didn’t get a TV until I was past 2 – and the first thing that came on was Warner Brothers cartoons. Mom and Dad said I watched for a minute, then burst into tears and was scared.

    Boy, did I get over the fear quickly.

  22. powdered beefmeat says:

    When a person uses the TV as a video pacifier, it is a clear indication of not being able to parent one’s child. I don’t have any scientific evidence but I truly believe that video (TV or games) slowly kills the creativity in a person, especially a developing child.

  23. bassbeast says:

    How about this: Turn off the damn TV, period. I don’t see why anyone really needs to have TV in front of kids at all. I have an 18-month old boy. Know why I’m typing this at 11:50 at night? Because I was too busy spending the time he was awake reading, running, playing, chasing and exploring. If TV can help build the bond between me and my son, then I’ll reconsider. But for now, I’m more than happy with my role as parent. He has, to this point, not watched one minute of so-called infant or toddler programming. I’m teaching him to count. I’m teaching him colors and shapes. I’m teaching him his head, shoulders, knees and toes. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

  24. bubbet4 says:

    I have a friend who was soooo concerned about her kid watching television that she would literally ask waitresses to turn it off when we went out to eat…other people in the restaurant were none too happy. They don’t even have a tv at home, but the kicker is her kid is one of the most hyperactive 3 yr olds I have ever seen. My kids watched tv occasionally when they were little and they turned out just fine. This study seems more for the “parents” who leave the tv on all day.

  25. sweetgreenthing says:

    My daughter is pretty brilliant (says everyone, not just me) and she watched one or two short, age-appropriate shows a day from 18 months on. I spent a lot of time playing with and teaching her of course, but moms and dads also need a break. They need to cook, clean, take a shower- elmo is a pretty good babysitter in a pinch.
    Now that she’s almost five she only watches one show a day and spends most of her time playing dress up or coloring. I really do not see the harm in limited, age appropriate TV for kids.

  26. DeathByCuriosity says:

    Purely anecdotal, but…

    I know someone who let their kids watch TV practically from birth. The oldest has problems paying attention and completing work in school (possibly ADD) and neither of the kids self-entertain very well. The other kids I know who watched a lot of TV range from the types who get bored almost instantly with everything to mostly normal but media-obsessed.

    My toddler, on the other hand, has minimal exposure to TV and she is really good at keeping herself busy for an hour or three at a stretch with books and toys. Right now, she’s sitting on the rug flipping through picture books.

    The big part is that there’s a huge difference in the children’s personalities and our methods of parenting, but I think TV use plays a significant role as well.