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.

  • Related.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 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
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 1:23
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    @afrazier Here's what it does!
    – user420
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 14:33
  • Just saw this on my Facebook, it seems very related to your question. - huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/…
    – user7678
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 14:19
  • At 2 months ur daughter or son can't even see 12 inches away they see light and focus on it
    – user20431
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 17:02

11 Answers 11


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.


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.

  • 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
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 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/… Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 17:18
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    @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.
    – user420
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 17:52
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    Interesting empirical evidence (FWIW) - my wife grew up with TV on all the time. I did not (thought I spent a substantial time on the Internet). She turns the TV on and can do other things, completely ignore whatever is on the TV. I, on the other hand, get very distracted when the TV is on. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 19:27

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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    -1. As noted in the accepted answer, many studies suggest that television can hinder intellectual development. At least one study suggests that the rapid scene changes in most television can, in fact, interfere with the ability to focus, so television may well be associated with ADD.
    – Warren Dew
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 22:35
  • Fair enough. In my view, it's impossible to separate the results of those studies (as I referenced in my answer) from the unusualness of the "non-TV" sample, so I treat them with scepticism. "Kids get distracted from what they're doing when you turn the TV on" does not necessarily imply ADD causation.
    – deworde
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 18:01
  • The control group of the rapid scene change study was people who watched noncommercial educational television only, which has a much longer average scene length (8 seconds versus 2 seconds, as I recall). They may still be unusual, but they're not "no television" unusual.
    – Warren Dew
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 18:48

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.


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.

  • People also need to be told how the lack of sleep affects kids. Many don't even know that kids need more than 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Apart from all other bodily issues that sleep loss causes, there's the fact that the intraocular and extraocular muscles need to hold the eyeball in position for too long while watching TV. The lack of periodic rest and sleep can cause serious issues for the eye. More here: medium.com/@nav9/the-real-cure-for-eye-strain-6483490d150f
    – Nav
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 7:36

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".
    – user420
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 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.
    – user420
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 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).
    – user420
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 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.
    – user3034
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 5:13

In at least one way, TV is harmful to an infant - every minute spent watching is a minute lost to other, better activities.

I guaranty your child would rather watch and listen to you than to the TV. Try putting her in one of those bouncy-relining seats on the counter while you cook or clean, and narrate your activities. You'll be amazed how entertaining you are! As they grow, keep her near you and keep talking to her and with her.


Lots going on here and obviously this is a passionate and hot topic subject. I would like to give my input based on what I have observed in infants, toddler and grade school children at daycare or after school programs. Here is what I have observed as a care provider for 10 years and a parent for 20:

-You can actually tell which children are watching a lot of television (at any age), playing video games, watching someone play video games and even what level of violence/adult content viewing they are getting.

-These are the children that have trouble staying focused, playing well with others and as grade school students a number of them will show inappropriate aggressive/sexual behavior in the class room. It's very disturbing to see btw and not appreciated by their peers.

-They often seem unable to function without a screen on or will constantly act out what they have seen. They are easily board, tend to get into trouble because they can't focus and often find it hard to make friends. The friends they do make tend to be the other kids who are watching the same things and that is their soul common connection.

Thinking that an infant isn't picking up on the effects of television is like thinking he/she doesn't pick up on when parents are fighting or stressed. Just because they can't comprehend it the way we do, doesn't mean something isn't happening in that brand new, beautiful, amazing brain. Why risk it? Won't they get plenty of screen time in the future?

I do not offer or allow television at my daycare. The State I live in actually regulates the amount of screen time children are supposed to get in child care and pre-school. 30 minutes a day. That includes tv, video games, computer ect. However, it has been my experience that few facilities actually keep to this guide. Teachers will set them in front of the TV so they can do other things.

It is a beautiful thing to watch a child's imagination and mind develop without the distraction of television. There is so much to do!!! And lets be honest, isn't it kind of creepy to see all of these little people walking around with screens in their faces? Yikes....how can they see this big, beautiful world if it's been reduced to a few inches?

Again, this is just my observation as a child care provider and mother. I am not an expert or scientist. This is just my own experience.

Best of luck!


There's a really good TED talk on this, and basically it says "it depends on the TV". Certain shows are absolutely overstimulation.


I'd write more on this, but it ultimately amounts to, "I did, and my kids are fine." ...and I blame the borderline ADHD on genetics and food dye. So, YMMV.

I will vouch for 'surprise egg' videos on youtube and Team Umizoomi as being good, non-overstimulating shows. If you have a 2 month old that's paying attention to anything, you're dealing with problems I've never had. Mine were 18/15 months before they would stay still for 10 minutes.


The key here isn't television. That is an artifact of the environment. The issue is parents who neglect their children for hours on end which incidentally creates a situation where the kids may watch 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.


My nurse told me do not let the child watching TV before 2 years old and then limited the time for the to watching. The over-stimulation may cause attention problem for them later on. The research shows that watching TV in the early age causes child suffer from ADHD in the early school. But I find it is difficult nowadays for us not using tablet, phone and TV in front of infant. At least, I am still trying my best.

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    Hi Cheryl, and welcome to the site. While this might be true, citing a reference to support your belief would make this a better answer. Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 3:53

I have allowed my little girl to watch TV on and off pretty much since she was born. This has only ever been for short periods though as I am not a big TV watcher myself. I have always interacted with her during watching TV and talked to her about what's on the screen etc.

She's just coming up to 2 now and has moved up to the next class in nursery a month early because she is advanced with her speech and knowledge. I don't think a little bit of TV watching will do too much harm, but I do think you also need to encourage other healthy behaviour such as outdoor activity, reading books, etc.

To contradict what I've said above, my health visitor has always told me that letting a young infant watch TV is bad for them and can cause problems like ADHD, although I got the feeling this was more opinion related advice than standard NHS advice. She didn't say to stop my LO watching TV but she did say to limit it and have times where to TV is off. I think this advice was more related to it being a background distraction and therefore would make it difficult for her to focus and pay attention on other things like books and toys.

From my personal experience I have found watching age-appropriate TV to be part of a variety of educational tools.

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