Educational Children's Television Programming: Why Babies And Toddlers Shouldn't Watch TV


This piece comes to us courtesy of Education Nation’s The Learning Curve blog. Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics report "Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years," writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has discouraged media use in young children since 1999. The initial recommendation was based on limited data, but we believed that there were more potential negatives of media than positives in this age group. Since then, the policy has taken flak from parents, industry and even some pediatricians. Many ask what the harm is in a baby being entertained by a video so a parent can make dinner or take a shower.

But the concerns raised are even more relevant today. Screens are everywhere and 90 percent of kids two-years and younger spend an average of an hour a day watching TV or videos. So we decided to take a fresh look at the scientific evidence and see if our concerns were still valid.

Here are the key questions and answers we found:

Do infant/toddler programs have any educational value for kids under the age of two?

Nope. There is a digital developmental divide. Video gets “lost in translation” for children under one and a half to two and a half-years-old. They can’t figure out the content or context to actually learn from televised programs. While a few 18-month-olds might “get it,” the majority of kids don’t have that skill until they are at least two-years-old. Entertaining? Yes. Educational? No. Young children learn best from real people and playing with real objects. Kids over age two can learn language and social skills from high-quality shows.

Is there any harm in children under the age of two watching televised programs?

There are three concerns here.

1) Short-term language delays. Young children who watch televised programs may have delayed language skills. Why? We don’t know. One concern is that parents talk less to their kids when the TV is on, and that “talk time” is critical for young children to learn language. We don’t have any long-term studies to see how this plays out, but the short-term effects are concerning.

2) Less quality and quantity of sleep. Nearly 30 percent of American kids aged two to three have a TV in their bedroom and 30 percent of parents admit to using TV as a sleep aid for their child. However, this backfires as kids go to bed later and have more disrupted sleep when they go to bed with the tube on.

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