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Should babies watch TV? Absolutely not!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents limit TV to an hour or two per day and exercise caution when it comes to letting babies under two watch TV at all.

A recent article published in Pediatrics found that early television exposure is associated with attentional problems at age 7. The study was a preliminary one but 10% of a sample of 1278 children at age 1 and 1345 children at age 3 had attentional problems at age 7. Television hours watched per day was the variable associated with later attentional problems. These children were not necessarily diagnosed with ADHD (See ParenTip “ADHD”)but they had statistically significant evidence of difficulty concentrating and impulsivity.

Children in this study watched an average of 2.2 hours per day at age 1 and 3.6 hours per day at age 3. All but 40% of the sample at age 1 watched one or more hours, some watched 12 hours! By age 3 only 10% of the children did not watch any TV.

Many of us working with children have long worried about the effects of TV on children (See ParenTip “TV”). Jane Healy cautioned about the deleterious effects of TV on the developing brain in her book, Endangered Minds in 1990. Yet the number of hours that children watch TV has not diminished at all.

I worry about the effect of other fast moving, frenetic things babies and young children are exposed to. Why do toys have to flash lights and make noises? Why do parents play loud music on the car radio? I am even beginning to wonder about newborns surrounded by brightly colored objects from mobiles to crib bumpers. What ever happened to nice, restful pastels, for goodness sake?

I know where all these bells and whistles came from. Babies need stimulation, something to look at and follow with their eyes, something to touch and make move. So, of course crib toys are desirable. But what Baby really wants to watch is a human face. The baby who is held and talked too many times a day is the lucky kid, not the one who has zillions of “stimulating” toys.

TV is pervasive and seductive. It also is a great babysitter for frazzled moms trying to care for another child or cook dinner. But no parent willingly exposes a child to something dangerous. Trust me, TV can be dangerous. It is an environmental pollutant that harms the young more than the rest of us.

If you have been unwittingly exposing your young children’s brains to TV, I suggest the following:

o Never leave the TV set on as a background to your home life.

o Turn off the TV permanently for babies and toddlers under 3.

o Limit TV to a maximum of one hour a day for children over 3.

o Monitor what your child is watching at all times or use videos that you have pre-screened.

These are tough guidelines to follow if TV has been a big part of your child’s life. Maybe we need a huge support group of mothers. How about MATV? Mothers Against TV, like the very successful MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), could organize to provide information and support for other parents trying to kick the TV habit. Maybe one of my readers out there will start such a group.