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My wife and I use our TV to watch shows and streaming movies. Our 2 month old daughter is sometimes drawn to the TV and will turn her head towards it and will 'focus' on it. I know that their eye sight is not developed to the point where they can really watch it. But perhaps the moving shapes and the sounds pique the interest for her growing brain and senses.

Is TV harmful at all to my infant's development?

I also want to clarify that we are always interacting with the baby, except when she is asleep, or when we're trying to cook dinner. So, we're not neglecting the baby and depriving her of social interaction.

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Related. –  Beofett Dec 21 '11 at 13:00
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Most of the junk on TV leaves me feeling dumber after watching it -- I shudder to think about what it would do to my kids. :-P –  afrazier Dec 22 '11 at 1:23
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@afrazier Here's what it does! –  Beofett Dec 22 '11 at 14:33

7 Answers 7

up vote 18 down vote accepted

In summary, research findings to date might suggest a correlation between television viewing and developmental problems, but they cannot show causality.

There is no evidence that television, even educational programming, has any positive effect on children younger than 2 years old. In fact, some studies suggest it may be harmful.

According to the above AAP media release:

To be beneficial, children need to understand the content of programs and pay attention to it. Children older than 2 years and those younger than 2 years are at different levels of cognitive development and process information differently.10 In fact, 2 studies have found that watching a program such as “Sesame Street” has a negative effect on language for children younger than 2 years,11,12 and 2 studies have found no evidence of benefit.13,14 There is a paucity of research on this topic, but the existing literature suggests that media use does not promote language skills in this age group.

Studies have shown that children under the age of 2 generally do not understand what is being shown on television, and, while there is conflicting information on whether or not they can learn anything useful from television, even the studies that show some learning indicate that the learning is less than would be obtained from comparable "live" interactions.

The concerns are stronger in the area of language development. This TED talk describes how minimal the impact of television on a toddler's language development is (2% as effective as a real person). In addition, a television being on generally reduces the amount of language interactions the baby has with the parents, as, at best, both the baby and the parents will be distracted by the television, and at worst the parents will use the television as an opportunity to engage in activities that do not involve the baby.

Again from the AAP media release:

A study that examined 12-, 24-, and 36-month-olds found that background television not only reduced the length of time that a child played but also that it reduced the child's focused attention during play.34 Children stop to look at a televised program, halt their ongoing play, and move on to a different activity after the interruption.34 Although most research has been performed on adolescents, study results suggest that background media might interfere with cognitive processing, memory, and reading comprehension.

However:

Only 1 research study, conducted in 1996, resulted in evidence to the contrary. In that study, 10-month-old infants tuned out surrounding noise and concentrated more during play.37

More study results:

  • Children younger than 5 years who watch television spend less time in creative play and less time interacting with parents or siblings
  • For every hour of television that a child younger than 2 years watches alone, he or she spends an additional 52 minutes less time per day interacting with a parent or sibling.
  • For every hour of television, there is 9% less time on weekdays and 11% less time on weekends spent in creative play for a child younger than 2 years.
  • However, children who live in households with heavy media use spend between 25% (for 3- to 4-year-olds) and 38% (for 5- to 6-year-olds) less time being read to or reading.3,4 These children have a lower likelihood of being able to read compared with their peers from households with low media use.4
  • Although parents perceive a televised program to be a calming sleep aid, some programs actually increase bedtime resistance, delay the onset of sleep, cause anxiety about falling asleep, and shorten sleep duration.41 Specifically, in children younger than 3 years, television viewing is associated with irregular sleep schedules.42

Since 1999, 3 studies have evaluated the effects of heavy television use on language development in children 8 to 16 months of age. In the short-term, children younger than 2 years who watch more television or videos have expressive language delays,12,43,44 and children younger than 1 year with heavy television viewing who are watching alone have a significantly higher chance of having a language delay.44 Although the long-term effects on language skills remain unknown, the evidence of short-term effects is concerning.

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I appreciate the references to the AAP info. I see a number of footnote references or other citations; it would be nice to be able to see what is being referenced there. –  Ray Jun 2 '12 at 2:49
    
Hi @Ray, googling for parts of the text you can find the original source... like this one: pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/12/… –  Tiago Cardoso Aug 1 '12 at 17:18
    
@Ray all of the footnotes are referenced in the original document that I linked, and many of them include hyperlinks to either an abstract, or the full text. –  Beofett Aug 1 '12 at 17:52

The key issue, as noted in Beofett's studies, is that increased TV use is generally a sign of less social interaction. However, it's important to recognise that "Low Media Use" is an abnormal state in most Western countries. If parents are actively avoiding TV use, that's generally a sign that they're going to try harder to read to their children and generally "parent" more. It looks from your question like you're doing this already.

Should you plonk your kid down in front of the TV while you go off to chat on the phone for half an hour? No. But it doesn't sound like you're doing that.

Is watching TV while your kid sits and plays in front of you going to cause your child to grow up with ADD? Probably not, unless you're so fascinated with the TV that you might as well not be there.

Basically, the TV is for older children and adults. For small children, it's a fascinating oddity, but so are the mobiles you hang above their cribs, the cat, and their own hands.

But if your child's happily playing and doesn't need your attention and you want to watch something, there's no evidence to suggest that's harmful. It might distract them, but again, at that age, the world is full of distractions.

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Some of the other answers seem to address older children. I'm focusing on infants as per the question.

Yes, TV is harmful to an infant because it overstimulates.

A TV screen is very active. This fast-paced activity should be avoided so as to not overload the mental processing capacity of the infant. While you're right that moving patterns and sounds are good stimulation for infants, such inputs need to be much slower than what a TV provides.

We adults don't really notice the fast pace because we can follow what's going on and it makes sense to us. But if you can't follow it, then it's putting quite some strain on you. There's a constant flood of light and dark flashes, fast movements, transitions and cuts between perspectives and scenes. If you look at your screen out of the corner of the eye, you'll get an idea of this - Or walk into a TV store... it's too hectic! Also, it doesn't have to be "Rambo"; even a relatively calm show like the evening news has lots of multi-camera action.

So I would avoid putting an infant in a position where she can see the TV screen, even partially or in the corner of the eye. Place the baby facing away from the screen (facing you!) instead.

Good visual stimulation for infants can be provided using mobiles that hang above their crib. Infants only have black/white vision the first 6 months, so the mobiles need to have distinct shapes and contrasting patterns (dots, spirals, lines, etc.). Later, colors are important too.

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Lots of good info here.

From a sleep perspective, TV can interfere with sleep if viewing occurs within 1-2 hours of bedtime or first thing in the morning.

In addition, the light from the TV or Computer can interfere with the bodies natural production of melatonin.

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I always find the topic of children vs TV as an odd dichotomy. It's like everyone watches tv but nobody wants their kids to watch tv. I'm not saying anyone posting in this thread is a hypocrite, not by any stretch, I'm making an aged observation.

Since I'm picking up a level of fear here in the question "Is TV harmful at all to my infant's development?", allow me to dispense a dose of realism: All things in moderation. An apple a day won't kill you, 20 apples a day might. A beer a day won't kill you, a case of beer a day might.

Your baby turning her head to look at the tv while you watch a movie is not going to irrevocably poison her mind.

For an infant or toddler, hanging out while you watch Dexter or Game of Thrones isn't going to matter. Dare I say popping on Baby Einstein or Blues Clues for an hour or whatever while you make lunch or pick up toys could actually be positive because you know where they are while your attention is elsewhere, which beats the alternative of NOT knowing what they could be getting into while you're in the basement switching out the laundry.

That's the 'apple a day' part that won't hurt. The 20 apples a day part is parking said child in front of the tv all day while you play facebook games or World of Warcraft. (Yes I've known people like this)

Bottom line: the television is a single tool. It has a place in the rearing of your child just like books, music, walks in the park and playing with megablocks . . . 10 solid hours of any activity will be no good. As the parent, make the decision as to what you think is too much and be ok with that, because the fact that you're here asking immediately puts you above the type of parent that you don't want to be.

(Dexter and Game of Thrones were chosen for comedic effect and they're 2ndary to the actual point. Please don't chastise me about feeding violence and sex to a baby)


[next day edit] I keep coming back to the apparent fear in the phrasing of the core question

"Is TV harmful at all?"

while I gave my opinionated answer to the direct question, the answer to this question is "If it was, we'd all be idiots."

I may have read you wrong here, but it's ok to lighten up a bit. A healthy level of concern is great, it's a clear internal check and balance. You're doing what you can to ensure your kid grows up healthy, wealthy and wise. But it can be overdone, and it usually happens with new parents that keep looking for the "how to raise your kid" book and panic when they can't find it. (Note: it doesn't exist.)

I personally have known parents take all the labels and techniques and 'fad family advice' too far. One couple I've known for a while wound up raising weird kids. They wondered out loud to me why their 13 was weird. But didn't want to listen to me when I told them it was the wheat germ brownies (or whatever it was) and the other arbitrary decisions (like "no tv at all till they're 4yo") that drowned out their inner parenting voice. A grand total of 20 Cheesey Poofs from a couple lunches in a week isn't going to kill a hi-chair toddler. And lets face it. . . cheesey poofs are fun to eat.

Listen to that parenting voice. You can read and research, and asking on these boards is great, but ultimately you're President of your child. You get to take in all the info and then do the thing that you feel is best (not RIGHT) and be confident that it is what is best for your child. you know your child better than anyone. If you act in their best interest, you'll never have anything to regret.

Yet, the closest family member who will see your girl a grand total of 50 hours in a calendar year will still try to tell you what to do and chide you for doing the "wrong" thing. Their opinion should go into the pool with all the other info. Just Smile -n- nod and then stick to your own goals. All things being equal, everything will turn out just fine.

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"while I gave my opinionated answer to the direct question, the answer to this question is 'If it was, we'd all be idiots.'" I disagree for several reasons. First and foremost, you cannot equate the effects of television on an infant or toddler mind with the effects on an adult. Its apples to oranges. Also, you cannot assume that the only effect would be total idiocy. That's reductio ad absurdum. If watching television made us just slightly less intelligent, social, or physically active than we would be without it, then the answer would be "yes" even though we aren't all "idiots". –  Beofett Jan 4 '12 at 19:53
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As it is, you aren't answering the question. Instead, you seem to be disagreeing with the premise of the question. –  Beofett Jan 4 '12 at 19:55
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The first part was humor. It was supposed to take a poke at everyones experiences and drag it to that absurd, yet funny, image of an eventuality that doesn't exist. It was based on the lifetimes, not just the adulthood viewing, spent watching tv that are part of the people imparting opinions in this thread. 2nd part, the question was answered in the 3rd para. That's the opinionated answer part. Realistically, it can't be expected that a baby turning their head to face the tv will be tangibly harmful over the long term (barring the unexpected). –  monsto Jan 4 '12 at 20:14
    
I understand that there was a humor element to your answer, but I believe it is still not really applicable to the question (and it is also not really a safe assumption that everyone watched TV as an infant 40, 30, or even 20 years ago). As for your third paragraph, I do not believe it is an accurate answer, considering the other answers citing valid reasons why focusing on a television could be harmful (especially considering the numerous studies on the topic that indicate that it may, in fact, be tangibly harmful over the long term). –  Beofett Jan 4 '12 at 20:22
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+1; the question's premise is flawed, and this answer points it out while offering a welcome reminder of the importance of moderation. The meaningful question is not "is there harm" but "how much harm?" A car ride can harm your infant's development, but that's no reason to stay home for three years. –  Jon of All Trades Aug 2 '12 at 5:13

My 13 month old son has been transfixed by the TV since day 1. Even if it's on in another room he would turn his head towards it.

He was crawling at 4 months, walking at 8 and he's just starting to talk a bit now so I don't think it's harmed him any.

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I know of no studies that attempt to link television viewing to physical milestones like crawling and walking. The concerns are language development. 5 or more words by the age of 15 months is the first language milestone, so it doesn't sound like your son is behind, but going by the first milestone is not really sufficient to claim that television has had no impact whatsoever. –  Beofett Dec 21 '11 at 13:34
    
I don't think Dean was claiming "no impact" or "it helped him walk" so much as giving a little opposition to the frowning on television viewing. –  monsto Jan 4 '12 at 5:51
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@monsto understood, but it doesn't actually address the question, and opposing the negative portrayal of television viewing by infants needs some concrete facts to back it up, or at least some detailed and comprehensive reasoning to support the view, as you provided in your answer. –  Beofett Jan 4 '12 at 13:50
    
Noone suggested that watching TV kills infants in a few weeks. The effects may be less obvious, easpecially in the short term. Check back in 10 years or so to tell us how your son fares :-) –  Péter Török Jan 5 '12 at 13:43

The key here isn't television. That is an artifact of the environment. The issue is parents who neglect their children for ours on end so they wind up watching TV for extended periods. It doesn't matter if the parents watch TV all day themselves also, that's just another form of disregarding your children.

Watching TV: OK.

Neglecting your children: Bad

As with many things (like economy, for example), there are no recipes for success to be found in parenting, but many recipes for disaster. Multi-hour stretches every week of pure TV has less to do with the TV than multi-hour stretches every week of not engaging in any self discovery. I expect several hours of staring at a tree every day would be more damaging than staring at a TV for the same period daily.

Kids should be active. So should parents. Heck, everyone should be! If you are afraid you're neglecting your kids, that's bad. If you're afraid they might receive entertaining audio-visual stimulation from time to time in the proximity of a TV, that's paranoia.

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Wow. An actual downvote for saying neglect is worse than TV. –  zxq9 13 hours ago

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