Don’t Put Baby in the Corner With That Damn TV

When my son was born, my wife and I had vowed to keep him out of eye’s reach of a screen, any kind of screen for a long, long time. We had read up on much of the data linking frequent and habitual TV watching to everything from obesity to learning difficulties, and it wasn’t a Herculean task to convince us to severely limit any sort of “screen-time” for baby. This included TV, computer, and smart phone time. A few years on, while we still firmly believe the in the findings of the data, we have considerably relaxed our rules. He gets to watch one age-appropriate video a week, has maybe 20 minutes total looking at age appropriate web content, and out of desperation (as in trying to keep him from prematurely falling asleep) he gains temporary custody of my iPhone for infrequent ten minute intervals (this, to me, is the pinnacle of lazy parenting). All things considered, our son likely gets a fraction of the screen-time that most children his age get. Actually, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, forty percent of 3-month-old infants are regular viewers of screen media [2], and 19% of babies 1 year and under have a TV in their bedroom. If I feel the need to assuage my guilt a bit, I could consider whatever backsliding I may be engaging in as a parent to be more like the wear and tear of parental mores over time.

But depending on whom you are speaking with/listening to, screen-time for children is a problematic issue. Obviously generous amounts of screen-time are well received by most children, as for them, there is nothing better than meditating in front of Yo Gabba Gabba. However, the statistics that I alluded to before are fairly alarming and should be carefully considered, especially as we close out the National Screen-Free Week (who knew, right?). Here are a few of those stats from the National Screen-Free Week website to consider:

• Screen time for children under 3 is linked to irregular sleep patterns and delayed language acquisition.
• Toddler screen time is also associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity, victimization by classmates, and increased BMI.
• Adolescents who watch 3 or more hours of television daily are at especially high risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure.
• On average, preschool children see nearly 25,000 television commercials, a figure that does not include product placement.
• Children with a television in their bedroom are more likely to be overweight.

And the list goes on to demonstrate that the problems just become more acute as children enter adolescence. However, there is time to reverse the direction. As it turns out, although TV viewing at a young age is associated with later behavioral problems, parents could undermine this result if heavy viewing is discontinued before age 6. But, as we know, patterns like these are enormously difficult to break, and a certain amount of pushback should be expected. But the alternative, having an antisocial, obese, underachiever, should be motivation enough.

Some parents express concern that keeping children out of the media loop and away from the various forms of electronic entertainment will yield children who are increasingly out of sync with their peers and the rest of the media-obsessed world. Is this a concern for you? What are you doing to temper your children’s exposure to media? Is it worth the battle?


J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

more evidence that variety is the spice of life required for health

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago


Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson6 years ago

WTF? Really? How is it that this is even a issue? I held my babies,breast feed them,talked to them,played with them,read books to them,napped with them. Why do you treat our children like"hey you,over there?"?

Anne F.
Anne F6 years ago

My best friend in college was a kind, smart kid who had just discovered Capt Kangaroo - his lack of television did not stunt his character nor his learning nor his social skills. Yes, watching television is different than reading for our eyes and our brains. Young children (7 to 10) learn a great deal from playing games together. some computer games work for this, but one person staring at a screen is not a team sport.

John S.
Past Member 6 years ago

Think TV is more a crutch for parents than anything for the baby.

Shannon B.
Shannon M6 years ago

If cellphones are even half as damaging to our bodies as current studies in the field would suggest, letting a fragile, developing child hold one close to their body presents an entire new set of issues completely unrelated to "screen time."

David K.
David K.6 years ago

I'm mystified why handing a child an iPhone is the "pinnacle of lazy parenting." Assuming you've chosen thoughtfully (Duck Duck Moose apps instead of iFart, say) both for the content and engagement of the app, and for the needs and abilities of your child, how is this different from handing them a picture book or toy for the same purpose -- keeping your child busy while you do something else, or as you say staving off premature sleep?

Content and context matter. Is a great TV show automatically worse than a junky book? Is time with a tired, impatient parent more valuable than 20 minutes on a well-chosen website while that parent regroups?

The research you cite is worth paying attention to, but it's also easier to write splashy headlines like "TV delay language development" than to explain the difference between correlation and causation, or to note details like that language gap disappearing mere months after it appears.

Ann G.
Ann G.6 years ago

It's probably better for parents to take both the TV and Internet access away when necessary. The line between being online and watching TV is very blurry. After all, when me or my kids are watching tv through the TVDevo web site, we are also online since all the tv shows are streamed over the internet.