Should Babies and Toddlers Watch Television

by Elizabeth Pantley

toddler watching TVSo much television programming is aimed at young children. Much of it appears to be educational: teaching the ABCs and life skills. When is it appropriate to introduce a baby to television, and what do parents need to know about this topic?

A great deal of research has been done on the effects of television on children's lives. The first step in making the decision is to get the facts. Because nearly all of us have one or more TV sets in our home, and since most of us watch some TV nearly every day, we may not want to hear what research tells us, but these are things parents need to know.

  • Experts suspect that babies younger than two years old view TV as a confusing array of colors, images, and noises. They don't understand much of the content. Since the average TV scene lasts five to eight seconds, your baby or toddler doesn't have enough time to digest what's happening.

  • Cartoons and many children's shows are filled with images of violence. If you find this hard to believe, surf the TV on Saturday morning. The realism portrayed in today's cartoons has moved light years beyond the Bugs Bunny type of violence. Many children's shows almost are animated versions of adult action films. Research shows that exposure to this type of programming increases the risk of aggressive behavior and desensitizes children to violence.

  • Babies and toddlers have a very literal view of the world. They can't yet tell the difference between real and pretend, and they interpret what they see on TV as true life. Research has demonstrated that many young children believe that TV characters actually live inside the TV set. This can confuse young children's understanding of the world and get in the way of their learning what's right or wrong. It can paint a picture of a frightening, unstable, and bewildering world -- and your little one does not yet have the faculties to put what he sees into proper perspective.

  • Television watching can be addictive. The more that children watch, the more they want to watch. Even toddlers can become drawn to the set. Once addicted, turning off the TV can become a daily battle. Children who watch TV excessively often become passive and lose their natural creativity; they eventually have a hard time keeping themselves busy, and they lose valuable time that should be dedicated to "play" -- the foundation of a healthy childhood and the primary way that very young children learn.

  • Parents sometimes unwittingly begin to use TV more and more as a way to keep their children happy and quiet. It takes a strong will and dedication to avoid the easy route provided by this free and easy -- yet sometimes dangerous babysitter.

  • Children experience unparalleled physical, mental, and emotional growth in the early years of life. Time spent watching television is time taken away from more healthful activities that nurture growth and development.

  • Children who watch a lot of television during their early years are at risk for childhood obesity, poor social development, and aggressive behavior. They often have trouble adjusting to preschool or kindergarten. According to a study by Yale Family Television Research, teachers characterized children who watched excessive television as less cooperative, less imaginative, less enthusiastic about learning, and less happy than those who watched little or no TV.

You may have noticed that all of these points demonstrate the negative aspects of letting babies and toddlers watch TV, and you're wondering if there are any positives. There are a few, but I'll be honest: I had to be very creative to come up with this list, since published research doesn't demonstrate many good points for putting a young child in front of a television. But we need to be realistic and acknowledge that most of us aren't going to put our TVs in the closet until all of our children start school. Here are some of the good points of television for children: