At what age should a child be introduced to the TV?

  • 16
    I don't think TV itself is a problem, but using it as a substitute for parenting, is. Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 21:52
  • We promised not to use it as a psuedo nanny, but it is sometimes hard, so we have limited it to 1 hour a day from TV/DSi and computer. It seems to work.
    – Hairy
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 16:51
  • We don't have a TV... at least as far as the kids know. We do have a DVD player, and NetFlix. We'll keep that up as long as possible. We've seen that certain behaviors are addictive, and while not bad themselves can take over. We see no need to get that cycle started with TV.
    – Bryce
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:44
  • @Bryce I converted your answer to a comment as it does not actually answer the question.
    – user420
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 12:22
  • 1
    Preferably never.
    – bjb568
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 18:06

11 Answers 11


According to the AAP not until two.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under two years of age avoid watching TV entirely. Experts say that babies and young toddlers see television as a confusing array of colors, images and noises. Children under age two won’t understand much of the content they see on TV and it takes time away from more productive exploring, such as interacting with others.

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.

  • 2
    if i wanted the government to tell me how to live, i would read one of their pamphlets Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 17:39
  • 15
    @I__ The AAP is not the government, aap.org/visit/facts.htm Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 18:37
  • 2
    how do you think they are funded? Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 19:32
  • 3
    As taken from their site..."The AAP’s activities and programs are funded through a wide variety of sources including membership dues, revenues from continuing medical education activities and publications, and unrestricted support from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies. Grants and contributions support more than 200 programs each year. Individuals and organizations may donate to the Friends of Children Fund annual campaign or through major or planned gifts to the Tomorrow's Children Endowment." Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 22:22
  • 1
    i knew you would do that :) Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 22:23

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?

  • 12
    And in my house when growing up, we learned that if there's nothing on but crap, the TV gets turned off. Learning moderation is also something you can learn, even if you have Cable.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 17:08
  • 2
    @Ernie: +1 to that. It's just that TV is so intrusive if you're not used to it. It's actually somewhat amusing to watch TV ads these days, after several years of isolation from them. Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 23:22
  • 1
    In fact, that 25% figure motivated me to build this: live25percentlonger.com Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 0:09
  • We've taken the middle way on this: we have videos and DVDs but no channels. Makes filtering, pausing and stopping so much easier.
    – Benjol
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 11:08
  • 1
    Parent of three @Newbie12345 (all born after that post!). Still don't have a TV, and screen time for the children is carefully rationed :) Boredom definitely isn't a problem post-children. But all of those things are even more fun with the kids 'helping'... just don't plan on getting any of them done quickly ;) Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 4:20

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
  • The programming that the child would be exposed to
  • Expected outcome of television viewing
  • Peer pressure

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 they're 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:

Peer pressure

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 it's 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.

  • I would take the opposite view, that instead of submitting to this peer pressure exerted by other parents, it gives you the opportunity (when they are old enough) to discuss Television and why you've made the choices you've made. You can also listen to their responses and respect those responses, but social development does and will happen with or without the TV being on a lot. Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 23:24
  • 1
    @balancedmama I don't actually mean "submit to peer pressure". Rather, I list it as a factor that people will want to consider when deciding when is appropriate.
    – user420
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 1:00

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.

  • 3
    While I agree, this answer doesn't really answer the question (save to support Aaron's answer).
    – Ziv
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 22:20
  • 1
    @Ziv: Yes it does. "Ideally, never." Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 22:30
  • 4
    Heh :D Let me rephrase, then: I assume from the question that the OP intends to let their kids watch TV at some point, and is wondering when. So "ideally never" is a perfectly valid opinion, but doesn't seem helpful in regards to the question and its intentions.
    – Ziv
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 22:52
  • 1
    You know what's crazy? My 4 year old son likes watching Extreme Engineering, How'd They Build That, and Mythbusters on Netflix. And that's aside from other educational age-appropriate stuff like Sesame Street. You'll never guess what he likes to do with his blocks and crazy fort "building materials". Now tell me that a child should never, ever watch TV.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 17:14
  • 2
    On a personal note, I learned a great deal about science and astronomy in particular from TV before I was 7, and these subjects continued to be fascinating to me long into adulthood. I like to believe that TV has had a positive influence on my life in spite of the huge mounds of crap that dominate its schedule.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 17:21

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.

  • Great answer. I really like the idea of hooking up a webcam to it and letting the child "see himself on TV" - that was a HUGE deal for me when I was little. :D
    – eckza
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 17:40

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 :)

  • 5
    In this TED talk a language researcher determines that "talking heads on a screen" have practically zero impact on children's language learning (I think she said 2% as compared to 100% of a real person). Commented May 18, 2011 at 18:02
  • Torben I was just going to link the exact same TED talk :) Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 1:35

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.

  • 2
    Isn't Harry Potter a bit scary for a 5.5 year old? Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 21:48
  • @JBRWilkinson She only gets to go up to movie #5 right now.
    – Cade Roux
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 21:49

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.

  • 2
    I'd downvote "because there's not much for a 4 year old to do when it's cold and raining outside all winter" if I could. Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 2:24
  • 1
    Well, he used to play outside in the rain until he became cognisant of the fact that none of the other kids did - at around the age of 3. Somehow all the indoor games get used up well before our 6 months of rain do.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 17:25
  • 1
    @duncan i did it for you Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 17:38

I have always heard it's 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 - it's 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.


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 what 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.


Preventing children from anything, here a TV, is a bad move. What is forbidden tastes much better than allowed, because it is forbidden.

If you manage to effectively prevent them from TV, they needn't be prepared to properly handle its pros and cons.

If you let them watch TV without any supervision it is bad move too. They will know TV only and nothing else.

The truth is somewhere in between. Let them watch TV but show them enough distractions so the telly is just one (sometimes boring) option among plenty. Let them slowly decide what they want to do - whether they want to watch a telly or do something else. When they chose TV, let them, but discuss afterwards what interesting and joyful stuff you were actually doing when they were watching (you want them to want to switch the TV off rather then force them to switch it off).

And try same approach as the entertaining feature to the information. Show them how to process information from ads, news, etc.

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