Should babies watch TV?

A few nights ago I was feeding my baby when I saw him frowning. I immediately checked the food, worrying that there was something wrong with it. But then I saw him straining to see around me – I had my back to the TV, where Rihanna was singing her latest hit, Love the way you lie.

Just the kind of message you want to teach your children, of course.

When I voiced my concern to a friend, this mother-of-3 told me, ‘You can't raise children without TV.’

Most parents I know confess to letting their small children watch some TV. Because as we all know, the flickering screen works like magic, turning screaming little monsters into docile, passive little angels.

There are TV channels across the world dedicated to babies, a whole range of DVDs and videos marketed as educational tools and aimed at children only a few months old. And babies seem to love watching television.

So how bad can TV be?

Quite bad, it would appear. The American Academy of Paediatrics believes that children under two years old should watch no television at all. Children older than two should, according to them, watch no more than one or two hours a day. Pfff… I hear you say, bloody Americans worry about everything.

But in France, the government in 2008 banned television shows for children under three. Their reasons?

‘Television viewing hurts the development of children under 3 years old and poses a certain number of risks, encouraging passivity, slow language acquisition, over-excitedness, troubles with sleep and concentration as well as dependence on screens.’

I also found studies that linked television viewing by babies and toddlers to a whole range of developmental problems ranging from language and cognitive skills issues, to obesity and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Dr Dimitri A Christiakis in another study found that with every hour spent in front of a screen, babies between 8 and 16 months old learned 6 to 8 fewer vocabulary words than children who didn't watch videos.

The development of a child's brain in the first 2 years is geared towards learning to talk and communicating, vital stepping stones in the development of intellect and various skills. According to many experts, how the brain develops at this age is a determining factor in how the brain will function for the rest of a person's life.

An interesting take on the debate was offered by Marie Evans Schmidt from the Centre on Media & Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston, who found that it was not so much the TV as the interaction between parent and child that was instrumental. Less educated and poorer mothers tend to talk less to their babies and read less to them, which is believed to lead to slower and weaker language skills development. In these homes TV played a bigger role and could therefore not be blamed solely for the developmental problems, she found.

So most of the research points towards TV being bad - especially for babies. For older children, the recommendation is to try and limit TV time and to try spending time with the child in front of the TV.

One thing seems certain – while we don't know how much harm is being done, we can apparently be quite sure that no good is coming from it. So that's final – no Rihanna for babba for at least a few years!

What role does TV play in your baby’s life?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
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