Why I’ve Been Rotting My Child’s Brain With TV Since Forever

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As the mother of an almost-three-year-old, I like to think I’m a pretty informed parent. I have taken my kid to all her regularly-scheduled well-child appointments; I didn’t give her peanut butter until age one; and most importantly, I am on the Internet all day, every day. That alone should tell you how informed I am as a parent; if I’m not reading 100 different ways I should be properly parenting my child, then I am clearly not doing the Internet correctly.

One thing that’s cropped up seemingly out of nowhere recently is this arbitrary rule, “No screens before age two.” I say “arbitrary” because in my nearly 36 months of parenting, I have never once heard my daughter’s pediatrician tell me not to let me daughter look at screens. And yet, within the past month, I have seen this rule referenced in several articles online, as well as seen people online admit to letting their under-two-year-old watch screens. Admit to whom, exactly, I am not quite sure; I assume these people must be Twitter friends with their pediatricians. Seems unethical, but okay.

Now, I’m going to spare you the whole, “I watched TV all the time growing up and I turned out fine!” argument. I know everyone has a story about how they learned the alphabet by age two because of Sesame Street. They played Nintendo until the wee hours of the morning and hey, they’re completely well-adjusted and valuable members of society! They just happen to constantly have a smartphone in front of their face, but that’s neither here nor there.

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    • Bethany Ramos

      My son’s first pediatrician initially said no screens until age 5!!!! I honestly couldn’t believe it and didn’t try very hard to avoid it. The first time that he was sick around 10 months old, we snuggled and watched Sesame Street for hours and hours. We always have Sesame Street on for him to watch; sometimes he’s interested, sometimes he wants to play outside.

      • AmazingE

        I love Sesame Street, I’ve been watching some of the classic episodes with my 15 month old, and I’m sad because she shows almost zero interest in it. But she loves Dora, which just drives me batty. She does like Fraggle Rock though, so there’s still hope, I guess.

      • zeisel

        The age 5 thing is still not mainstream yet, but is now being looked at more seriously by studies that are coming out. Your pediatrician seems to be on the ball.. My cousin is a Special Early Childhood Teacher and has her masters and said the same thing about the 5 year. For the first 18 months my baby didn’t have any screen time… it was hard and I tried my best (with being a SAHM) and do a lot of fun classes with my toddler and a ton of play-dates (more for myself and other moms) and ‘cool’ toys that distract her, so I can get stuff done and actually eat something in front of her. At 18 months she came down with Hand, Foot, Mouth disease that was going around and I rented einstien baby for her and I think it was like a drug for me… to give myself a much needed break, because she was so clingy while sick. After that I went another 2 months of no tv and she got a cold so we rented Daniel the Tiger and now we watch at least two episodes a day- one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I’m sure my cousin would be displeased. I can’t hold out until she’s FIVE.

      • Sarahstired

        My pediatrician always told me these gems… then she had kids of her own

    • Katie L.

      We’ve been snowed in for four days and we have watched so much tv. Let’s jus say I hope Dora loses her map and gets lost for a while.

      Even when we’re not snowed in my daughter watches a few tv shows. Allowing her to watch a show greatly improves my chances of getting out the door faster. You do what works.

      • neighbor57

        SAY MAP! SAY MAP! SAY MAP!
        Thought you might be missing Dora a bit.

    • Ellen

      http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/1040.full?sid=90c428d6-df4a-4e16-8862-2ef44f314693

      “In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement addressing media use in children. The purpose of that statement was to educate parents about the effects that media—both the amount and the content—may have on children. In one part of that statement, the AAP recommended that “pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of two years.” The wording of the policy specifically discouraged media use in this age group, although it is frequently misquoted by media outlets as no media exposure in this age group. The AAP believed that there were significantly more potential negative effects of media than positive ones for this age group and, thus, advised families to thoughtfully consider media use for infants. This policy statement reaffirms the 1999 statement with respect to media use in infants and children younger than 2 years and provides updated research findings to support it. This statement addresses (1) the lack of evidence supporting educational or developmental benefits for media use by children younger than 2 years, (2) the potential adverse health and developmental effects of media use by children younger than 2 years, and (3) adverse effects of parental media use (background media) on children younger than 2 years.”

      • Kate

        Thank you. The AAP recommendation isn’t out there because the AAP are scolds who think that the best kids are the weird ones who don’t know who Elmo is– the recommendations are based on science that has to do with (among other things) how the rapid and incomprehensible (to an infant) images on screens negatively affect their brain development. I’m not saying everyone has to be perfect or do everything the AAP says, but this article is annoyingly ignorant. It suggests that because the author doesn’t understand the AAP recommendation, it must be nonsense.

      • SDM14

        I get so stressed about the background media business. I spend half my life nursing my baby, and if I had to do with no TV or radio, I would go bonkers.

      • jmuns79

        I was really stressed about that too. But then I did more research and it seems like TV is really bad because of the lack of interaction that comes with watching. So if you’re not talking to and playing with your baby, then that’s bad. But if you have to watch something while feeding (or in my case holding baby 24/7 for months), then I think it’s okay.

    • Andrew Cole

      Our son watches more TV than I am happy with, but at the end of the day, it works. When I need to make his breakfast in the morning, and a cup of coffee for the not-the-greatest-dad-in-the-world, eleven minutes of the Bernstein bear family keeps him happily distracted.

    • ChelseaBFH

      What I really want to know is, am I allowed to watch TV with my 3-month-old on my lap? Sometimes he gets sick of me “interacting” and just wants to hang out and gaze into the middle distance for a while – is it cool if we do that in front of a screen, or am I supposed to be just as fascinated with the curtains as he is? What’s worse, holding (aka “bonding with”) him while I watch TV, or putting him in his swing while I sit on the couch with the iPad? Does it matter if I’m watching the Olympics or American Horror Story? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!!

      • MaebykittyRN

        I have a 3 month old, and I do the same thing. Sometimes I’ll leave the TV on in the background during the day, because it’s just too damn quiet without it. Am I a horrible parent? Probably, but as long as my kid is alive and smiling by bedtime, I count the day as a success.

    • TwentiSomething Mom

      I’ve seen this “rule” since I was pregnant and vowed not to allow my son to watch TV till he was 2. Yea, OK.

    • Tauren Stiles

      TV is bad in a way because kids are not doing other things – playing, creating, moving their bodies etc.. We do not own a TV on purpose. However, our kids are allowed to watch a DVD on a portable player a few times a week for 30-60 minutes at a time. We use the DVD to manage/occupy the kids when we really NEED them to sit down and be quiet – on airplanes, in the doctors office, if I have them with me for a business lunch (I’m a consultant on children’s products). AND, AND when they are driving me bat-shit crazy after being stuck inside for days because schools are closed. I totally get why parents use TV but I don’t kid myself. TV is not an educational tool. TV is a mindless time suck. And I use it, without remorse, when I want my kids to sit down and STFU.

      • Guest

        I think TV is bad because most kids (and adults) go home plant themselves in front of it, eat in front of it, and then go to bed in front of it. No time to do anything else which is just depressing when you think about it.

      • Maggie

        Those last few sentences… I will need to use them next time my bitch of a sister-in-law tells me my son developed hyperlaxity because I allowed him to watch Yo Gabba Gabba for 15 minutes so I could wash the applesauce/vomit out of my hair.

    • http://www.ambiencechaser.com/ Elizabeth Licata

      I worry about the background media thing. I’m fairly confident that we can avoid giving a kid screen time, but mama needs to watch Teen Wolf.

    • doodlebug2

      Meh, I think most things in moderation are fine. Is plopping your kid in front of the TV every day for hours on end a great idea? Probably not. Will it turn your child into a serial killer? Probably not. Is it ok to turn on the TV for a little while every day so you can pee in peace or shower or make dinner or simply be left the hell alone? I certainly hope so!

      • Allyson_et_al

        What if you plop them in front of Dexter for hours on end? I’m asking..uh..for a friend. Yeah, that’s it! A Friend!

    • Robotic Arms Dealer

      Isn’t moderation important (like everything else in life)?

      • AmazingE

        I am unfamiliar with this “moderation” of which you speak, please do go on.

    • Kat

      I put my baby in his bumbo seat and parked him in front of the Olympics last night. The kid enjoys ice dancing, that’s for sure. And then mommy got to eat her dinner with two hands! Yay! I figure he doesn’t see any TV at daycare all day, so if he happens to be entertained by the TV for 20 minutes so I can shovel some food down my throat, so be it. I can tell you that it’s by no means an actual babysitter — he’s only happy for about 20 minutes before he wants the best source of entertainment in the house: mommy.

      • Allyson_et_al

        Don’t let him watch ice dancing! He’ll turn gay for sure!

        /sarcasm

    • Tinyfaeri

      From what I’ve read, it’s part that too much screen time can cause language development delays – babies can’t learn to talk from watching a screen, they can only learn from a live person in front of them, and even having it on in the background can distract from learning from and interacting with a real person. Also, cartoons made for older children with fast-moving scenes and that transition fast from one thing to another (BLAM! $20 for this Barbie! ZIP, ZANG, KA-POW!) can contribute to attention problems in toddlers because of having to rapidly switch focus from one thing to another. There are more age-appropriate cartoons that purposely have a slower pace and are easier for developing brains.

      Will some TV now and again hurt? I really don’t think so. Are there a gabillion anecdotal stories about kids turning out fine after watching a ton of TV? Yup. Like anything else in parenting and life, do what works best for you and your family.

      • Rachel Sea

        Many hearing children of Deaf parents learned their early spoken language from TV, so babies must have some ability to learn from recordings of people.

      • Tinyfaeri

        I’m not familiar with any studies on that – did they not have any contact with hearing adults (so their only contact with the spoken word was TV)? Not disagreeing, just curious.

      • Rachel Sea

        I have no idea if it has been studied, but in taking ASL classes I’ve spoken to both Deaf parents, and Children of Deaf Adults who used the TV as a language tool. One of my professors was an “oral failure” (though she spent 13 years in a boarding school being taught speech, her speech is not good) whose community as a new mother was all Deaf. She didn’t want her kids to speak like her, so she never spoke in front of them when they were babies. Her daughter learned speech from TV first, school second. Her son learned from her daughter, TV, and school. TV alone isn’t good enough, but neither does it seem to be useless.

        Now there are more resources for CODAs, including speech therapy, but 40+ years ago there was nothing.

      • Tinyfaeri

        That’s really interesting, thank you :)

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      Every parent I know – even those who were the most vocal about ‘no screens’ when pregnant – lets their kid watch some TV/movies/whatever.

      We try to limit it/keep it in moderation, but still…sometimes only one of us is home and we need to have a shower or make food and putting on some Dinosaur Train will guarantee that the kid’ll be still sitting there in one piece when we’re done.

      Or it’s mid-February and the weather sucks and we’re all bored so we watch a movie together on Saturday afternoons. This weekend it was Bedknobs and Broomsticks and holy hell that movie confused my kid.

      • ted3553

        that is my favorite movie ever. I used to wish all the time that I had a magical bedknob. I can’t wait until my little one is old enough to watch it

    • telepanda

      I guess we’re in the minority here, because we actually don’t let our kids watch TV. And it’s only recently (my son is 3) that he’s been allowed to play with the iPad a little bit.

      With the following exceptions: we have watched TV while holding them up until they were about 3 months old, but I don’t count that as “watching”. We stopped once they were more alert (and going to bed before 11pm). Also, all bets are off on an airplane or a many-hour car trip. And we’ve been watching a little Olympics. But we have never, for example, watched a kids’ show.

      The main reason is we just don’t have time to fight with them over it. We work, so our family time is limited. And screen time (both TV and iPad) has historically been like crack to our son. Once he gets a little he CANNOT. EVER. HAVE. ENOUGH. We’d try periodically, but ten minutes of screen time kept resulting in thirty minutes of howling, so we’ve just said fine. No screens. He’s finally getting to the point where we can pull out the iPad and look up a picture of some animal we’ve been talking about, or the newly discovered dinosaur we heard about on the radio, and that’s cool. Within reason, there’s definitely a place for technology. But at least for our family, not until the kids have enough self-control to understand that it has limits and to not drive us batshit crazy with their demands for more and more and more.

    • Ptownsteveschick

      We got trapped in a rainstorm on a walk one day and popped into the library to wait for it to let up. Usually we only get books, but since we had time to kill, I sat with my daughter on my lap and let her do one of their “tumble books” which is a read aloud program with pictures on the computer. Some sanctimommy’s child climbed up into the next chair, and she loudly proclaimed “Get away from there! You are going to rot your brain!” While making direct eye contact with me. Oh how I wish I had told her to go to hell. But you know, library manners.

      • Allyson_et_al

        What a self-righteous bitch! (Her, not you!)

    • SDM14

      We really don’t let our 2 1/2 year old daughter watch TV and then I found out about the background media recommendation. So all those hours I spent (and still spend) nursing her and nursing my three-month-old son, I should have spent with no TV or radio? Is there no way to do this parenting thing right? I give up.

      • http://www.gypsyforlife.blogspot.com/ Trista Crass

        That’s it. You can turn in your child at the nearest CPA or Target.

    • rrlo

      The AAP makes recommendations that are frequently ignored in favour of other things like life (e.g. breastfeeding till age 1 comes to mind). They also frequently change (e.g. Back to Sleep/ not giving nuts until age 1). So the AAP recommendation is not word of God.
      Logically, there will never be a well-designed study that will be able to measure cohorts of children that watch a lot of TV versus those that don’t. It is unlikely that a child that watches a lot of TV but has otherwise involved, loving parents will be worse off than someone who watches no TV but has detached parents.
      So – in the grand scheme of things TV watching is not that big of a deal – it just can’t be. Too many kids watch too much TV (and have been for years) and will continue for years as well. As long as parents ensure that the kids are well-fed, well-rested, gets the necessary stimulation etc.

      • SDM14

        I needed to hear this today. Thank you.

    • http://RachelintheOC.com/ Rachel Thompson

      Great article!

      As a mother of an 8 year old boy and a 14 year old girl, I can tell you that they both turned out just fine watching TV, DVDs, and iPads etc. In fact, schools are now embracing certain video games like ‘Minecraft’ (which my son LOVES more than me, I’m convinced), and I understand why. It forces his brain to figure out spatial relationships, learn words and story concepts, write, and play with others — this is fun for him, even after a long day in school.

      Most kids shows aimed at the little ones are educational and have certain guidelines to follow. It’s not like the old days where any old thing counted as kids TV. (Still, that doesn’t really explain Teletubbies, does it.)

      Both my kids are smart — not genius smart so don’t worry, I’m not one of those crazy parents who thinks their kids are gifted — but I’m convinced they both spoke early because of watching age-appropriate shows and learning how to interact.

      Ultimately, we have to do what we feel best as parents. There is no ‘screen police’ and I, for one, am glad about that.

    • http://www.gypsyforlife.blogspot.com/ Trista Crass

      I don’t let my kid watch broadcast TV (mainly because I don’t watch it) but we let him watch movies or Yo Gabba Gabba when he’s into it. I don’t get the whole “My child will not learn to use technology!” sanctimom thing. I know several moms that brag about how their 12-year-old doesn’t know what a computer is. All they’re doing is sending people into a VERY tech-oriented rules without the skills they’ll need. So, good job, assholes.

      • Guest

        I would agree with this. I know when we got married my husband and I basically stopped watching regular tv and only do Netflix. I’ve now realized that my kids probably won’t see commercials unless they’re at Grandma/Grandpas and I’m totally on board with that!

    • TheGiantPeach

      There is no way I could have made it through my 4 month maternity leave with countless 2 am nursing sessions without my Scrubs and Friends reruns. If my son is screwed up from this, well, at least he will have good taste in TV shows.

    • Tardis

      I let my 3 month old watch TV, and have since he was about a month old. Anything that captures his attention that isn’t me is great in my book.

    • Jessica

      Before I had my daughter I nannied. The first family had very limited tv time. No tv during the week, & only limited time on the weekend. Friday afternoon when mom or dad got home the kids begged to have it turned on. Then they all (4) sat like zombies the whole time. The second family didn’t have rules about tv. We’d turn Disney on & sometimes they’d sit & watch for a minute, & sometimes we’d just play.
      I don’t really want my daughter to view tv as something special that requires all our attention. So for us, we turn it on sometimes & play or color while it runs in the background.

    • Sarahstired

      I never wanted to be the mom who let their kid watch lots of TV and I try, I really do, but when I have to put the baby down and the toddler won’t play quietly (never) and hubs works the night shift what is a girl to do. Yesterday though the 3yr old started counting in Spanish… thank you Dora and Diego!

    • Snickety Snark

      Eh, I’ve got kids from 17 all the way down to 15 months. We have always watched TV, since around 8 months starting with baby einstein video tapes (back in the day). My oldest is an honor student, is about to go off to college this year and has somehow managed to turn out just fine. She also played video games since she was about 5, and was obsessed with Pokemon for at least 10 years.
      While we have been TV/ gamer people, my kids are also in sports twice a week and when possible, we are outside.
      All these things I see and hear now that we have this huge ass internet – I’m honestly just skeptical of.
      Genetics play a huge part in who your kid is going to grow up to be. That and how you lead your life and theirs in general.
      We live in an area where it’s cold for more then 7 months out of the year and negative temps keep us inside a lot. Without the TV, we’d probably go nuts. I also work in the home and need to enter data for at least 3 hours a day.
      I try to plan most of it for nap time, but I can say that Sesame Street gives me at least a solid hours worth of work in each day.
      I think if you have other good habits, healthy family interactions and good relations with your kiddo, they will be just fine with some TV tossed in there.
      You can only read, play and devote one on one attention so much out of a day. Other shit needs done too. Laundry, cooking, toilet scrubbing, wiping down baseboards (you know you all do that weekly right?) Just stuff, there is always STUFF and the TV can provide a bit of entertainment during those times. It’s not like there isn’t other alone play during the day with no TV.

      Also, most of us are huge naysayers about the very thing we all do every day, which is, screen time. Phones, Ipads and laptops. You can raise them just fine without it, but you will probably see your teen or young adult with their nose buried in a screen soon enough.
      Ha! and just wait until they start eating like shit. I can cook every home made goody on earth and I still find wadded up taco bell wrappers and energy drinks in the back of our teens car. I guess she was “pure” for a few years. How about a chocolate quinoa no bake cookie?

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      My 10-month old son is allowed to watch Sesame Street. He gets a max of one episode per day. Sometimes we can get through the day without, but if I’m tired or he’s cranky, it’s a delightful time-killing distraction.
      I love it. It’s nostalgic for me, age-appropriate, I never have to worry it imparting aggression, it touches on letters, numbers, vocabulary, shapes, colours, feelings… etc. and it’s not grating for me at all.
      I don’t want my son growing up not knowing relevant pop culture stuff his peers would be familiar with, I think a childhood without muppets is sad, and of course my own anecdote: I grew up with SS as a baby and toddler and my vocabulary was enviable when I was a child. Reason? My mom read to me often and never shied away from large words. A little quality TV cannot undo quality parenting.

    • Momofthree

      You guys are sh