Is it OK for babies to watch TV?


Recommendations for Babies and TV
Photographer: Ingrid Balabanova

One of the researchers involved with the "Baby Einstein" study said that he would prefer that parents watch television with their children, if they allow their children to watch TV at all. That way at least the parents would be engaging with their children and helping them to understand unfamiliar concepts. The creators of the "Baby Einstein" series offer the same advice [Source: Denver Post].

But many experts contend that young children shouldn't watch any TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that children under 2 years old should not watch any television and that children older than 2 shouldn't watch more than one to two hours of TV a day [Source: AAP].

In a published statement, Frederick Zimmerman and the other researchers emphasized the consideration of time. They argue that watching television wastes babies' "alert time," since babies sleep about 12 hours a day [Source: Forbes]. Parents can better spend the time their baby is awake by speaking "baby talk" (which actually helps babies develop language) and engaging in interactive activities that TV can't provide. Physical and social interaction allows babies to pick up subtle cues that also help language development. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends a variety of exercises for aiding babies' cognitive development, including using eye contact, engaging in back-and-forth conversation, playing "finger games" (like peek-a-boo) and reading to a child [Source: ASHA]. If they're on their own, games like playing with blocks are beneficial.

Experts associate excessive TV watching with a variety of problems in children, among them childhood obesity, ADHD and aggression. Some advocacy groups also express concern about the images children see on "non-educational" TV shows. The AAP estimates that if a child watches between three and four hours of TV a day, he will see 8,000 murders before he starts middle school [Source: AAP]

Some research shows that certain TV shows do help development. The popularity and critical acclaim of "Sesame Street," which is geared towards toddlers, is proof of that. Preschool-aged children can benefit from educational TV. There's also a TV channel called BabyFirstTV devoted solely to programming for babies, but it is the subject of some criticism. BabyFirstTV runs commercial-free, educational programs that last less than 10 minutes. The company claims that while parents generally leave babies to watch TV unattended, most of their customers watch TV with their children. Even so, some doctors claim that that's only the lesser of two evils.

Many television-viewing habits have neither a positive nor a negative effect. The AAP and other experts recommend that if your child is watching TV, watch it with him. Watching together facilitates positive interactions. Parents can explain problems with a show or things a child doesn't understand.

Zimmerman argues that the amount of time spent watching DVDs like "Baby Einstein" is an important factor, but more research is also needed in order to study the long-term developmental effects of these videos. The overall conclusion appears to be that even supposedly educational television can be harmful to children under 2. Parent-child interaction is important at any age, but it's even more important for babies, and that's something a screen can't replace.

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