At what age should a child be introduced to the TV?
We've stayed away from TV (5.5yo and 2.5yo) pretty much. DVDs, though since age 2 - lots of Disney (my eldest loves Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and I've introduced StarWars to the youngest). But they only get to watch them for a certain amount of time or as treats or in long car journeys.
According to the AAP not until two.
The reality though is that this can vary. While recommendations exist; reality also exists. If under the age of two limit exposure as much as possible.
Ideally, never. Imagine if children could not watch television until adulthood, but instead had to entertain themselves, go outside to play, etc.
Of course, that's impossible to accomplish in reality. And let's face it, television can be quite a useful tool to entertain a young child while you focus on some pressing task. But as Aaron noted, ideally you'd avoid all screen time until the child is at least two.
TV programming is generally not suitable for small children. (Often it's hardly palatable for adults, too, but that's another question.) Images on a big screen still can play a positive role. Masaru Ibuka wrote that watching and listening to talking heads definitely helps small children learn language: they hear the sounds and see the mimics, which is important to acquire correct articulation.
Chosen watching material can be introduced pretty early; my daughter started to watch certain cartoons at about 9 months. She's 2y 4m now, and she learned quite a lot from watching: words, counting to ten in two languages, notion of many animals and their typical behavior, etc. But it's not TV proper, it's rather DVD or other recorded media.
TV proper could be introduced to children when they're mature enough to see it with a critical eye, and are able to control themselves well enough — probably at school age. Hiding the existence of TV is hardly wise, for it's easy to discover from contacts with other children, in public places, etc. Not having a TV in the house helps enormously :)
Kids are different, families are different, don't stress on it too much.
Since you are asking the question, you are clearly aware that using the TV as a babysitter, letting your child watch inappropriate material, or failing to provide your child with real-world interaction (and lots of it) would be very bad for him or her. Once you've avoided those pitfalls, what to watch, how often, etc. is a matter of taste.
Here's how it's worked in my house:
When my son was an infant, the TV was almost always on in our house. My then-husband was deployed, and I'm used to a full house, so I needed the background noise. I didn't really bother with kid movies -- other than passing on my aversion to total silence, what I watched wasn't making an impression on him anyway.
When my son was a toddler, we still used the TV mainly as a source of background noise, though in the mornings we'd often cuddle and watch a kid movie on DVD (we did NOT have any regular TV coming into the house at all).
Aside from that, there are great things you can do with a TV -- we've hooked up my digital camera to it so the little one can watch himself, shown photos of his father during absences, mirrored my computer screen when I need to make it easy for my son to follow along, and more.
It's just a thing. Its influence in your child's life can be positive, neutral, or negative, depending 100% on what you choose to do with it.
We kept our first son from watching TV as much as possible until he was about two. After that it was mostly DVDs and whatever content we could find on the internet.
All bets were off for the second kid though, because there's not much for a 4 year old to do when it's cold and raining outside all winter. And of course, he wanted nothing more than to watch Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, and Ni Hao Kai Lan (too bad all his Chinese friends speak Cantonese).
So of course your mileage may vary.
Coincidentally, the 14-month old seems little affected by it. If anything, having a big brother means that he's better coordinated, plays more in the real world, and runs faster. Kids engage other kids to play in ways that adults never can.
Why do you assume that TV is a given? My wife & I don't own one (well, except for the retro TV I use as a monitor for my Atari 2600). When we were growing up, neither of us had a TV in the home until we were older than 10.
My suggestion would be to junk your TV, & see how you get along without it. Bored? Learn to play an instrument, read a book, build a cool project, cook some delicious food, brew some beer or mead, paint, draw, sing, ...
We ditched TV as a form of entertainment three years ago, and haven't regretted it for a moment. It's jarring to walk into someone else's home & hear the TV blaring out content that seems to be either crap, advertising, or some unholy combination of the two. It's shocking to see just how bad most of the content is.
IMO, you'd be doing your children a serious favour by teaching them, by example, how one can survive without TV in the first place.
Edited to add: check out these Television viewing statistics. People in the US and UK will spend nearly a quarter of their waking lives watching TV.
So to put it another way: if someone told you your kids could live 25% longer lives, at the cost of never watching TV, what would you choose?
I don't believe there is a single, universal "right" age to introduce children to television.
There are a couple of factors that you need to consider when making that decision:
Developmental impact on your child
There's a lot of material out there about the impact of television on a child's development. Much of it is contradictory.
In this answer, I have detailed a number of potential developmental hazards identified by research.
As mentioned in an earlier answer here, as well as in my answer on that other question, the American Academy of Pediatrics, a non-profit and independently operated organization of over 60,000 pediatricians which evaluates pediatric research and makes recommendations of best-practices based upon that research, feels that there is sufficient risk to advise against any exposure to television prior to the age of 2. They also cite lack of any evidence of beneficial effect on learning or development from watching television at early stages of development as justification for this recommendation.
They recommend a restricted access to television to a maximum of 1-2 hours of quality programming a day.
The "quality programming" caveat is a bit subjective, but there have been studies that indicate that certain types of programming (particularly shows that rapidly change scenery and which are generally fast paced) can be detrimental to short term cognitive ability.
This brings us to the next factor to consider:
The programming that the child would be exposed to
What will the child's options be during the times they will be watching?
If you expect them to be watching relatively educational programs (and your definition can range anywhere from "Sesame Street" to "Mythbusters", but there are some good suggestions in this thread), I would say you can start them earlier than if you intended to let them use television for pure "mindless" entertainment (cartoons, etc.) without negative effect. Indeed, while there's no evidence to indicate that educational television has any benefit before the age of 2, I believe once language skills are developed, children can learn some things from television at an older age. This New York Times article, for instance, cites research that shows that viewers of the children's show "Blues Clues" ages 3 to 5 score better on tests of problem solving than those who haven’t watched the show.
Then again, if you expect your child to sit down and watch a couple of hours of Spongebob each day (much as I hate to pick on Spongebob, this study was pretty damning), you might want to consider waiting until their older, and focus on getting them up to speed on social interactions, family obligations, and responsibilities.
This ties in with the next factor:
Expected outcome of television viewing
Do you have specific shows that you want to share with your child? Or are you just looking for some opportunities for some "me" time, or time to spend with your significant other? Or maybe you need a distraction for when an even younger child needs care?
These expectations will certainly impact when you introduce your child to television. If there's nothing you plan to accomplish by having your child watch television, then delay it as long as you can. If, however, it is crucial that you keep the kid distracted and quiet while you try to catch an hour's nap because your infant is still waking up every 2-3 hours to feed, then you should certainly give that consideration.
Just don't forget that there may be alternatives to television, depending upon what you wish to accomplish. Toys like LEGO blocks can, for some children, provide periods of quiet, creative play. Coloring and drawing is also a good option (if you can rely on your child to not draw on the walls!).
Generally, the longer you can put off television, the better off you probably are, but there is always a need to balance with reasons that might make putting it off difficult.
The most significant reason to avoid putting off television too long will be, for many, the last factor to consider:
For children, social interaction is a major tool for development. Playtime with friends and peers can build a host of valuable skills, plus it is fun, too!
However, it also means that your child will be exposed to the values, expectations, and decisions of other parents.
It can be much harder to shelter your child from television when all of their friends are going on and on about their favorite show or movie.
Stores that expect children, either as the target audience or accompanying their parents, also contribute to this. My son has never seen the movie "Cars", but he already has a number of toys related to the franchise.
I've noticed that children, particularly toddlers, can be extremely obsessive about whatever their latest favorite is. Whether its trains, dinosaurs, princesses, or Darth Vader, many toddlers seem to go through phases where there is only one thing they want to talk about.
If your child's friends are watching television more than your child, and it forms a major part of their interests, you run the risk of your child feeling left out (or, perhaps worse, bypassing your rules to watch shows that you haven't given permission for at a friend's house). So this, too, should play a factor in determining when you should introduce your child to television.
This is a good question. It depends. IMHO, the later the better. The more time your child spends doing something other than watching TV the better.
When our kids were younger, we could control it more, manage how much TV they watched and watch they watched, but as a wise man once said, you have to teach them why they should not watch too much TV and to be discerning about what they are watching. At some point, your child will be making their own decisions about how much and what to watch.
Teach them well and filter for them while you can.
I have always heard its a bad idea until they're two. However, I did use some baby signing videos before that (the pictures are slower moving and I wanted her to learn sign language) Then, when she turned two, we still monitored the content and amount that she watched. My rule of thumb was, if she's watching I have to watch with her. That way the TV didn't become a baby sitter and I knew that what she was watching was of true quality (For example, Dora teaches numbers and colors etc in much the same way as many other shows, but she doesn't really teach much Spanish as a lot of parents are convinced she does - its often the same sets of words from one episode to the next).
You might try some other activities to keep them busy. For example, if you are working in the kitchen, give them a sensory activity to do instead. When she turned three we actually shut our cable off so TV viewing is a pretty rare thing. We do watch videos though.