This article was featured on Mother & Child Magazine in English and Arabic

Every parent has been in this position where you are tired, hungry, just came home from work and need to shower, make dinner or just take a break! Problem: Your baby is asking for entertainment. Solution: the TV!

A little amount of TV never hurt anyone. However, television has become the “virtual nanny” for many parents. Children eat, play or read while the TV is on. Often resulting in hours of television viewing,

What's the Problem?

The problem is that television viewing takes away from human interaction, which is how your baby is designed to learn and develop.  Actually the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV exposure for children under 2!. A recent study showed that every hour of TV that a child under 3 watches per day increases the chance of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis by 10%.This is most likely because of the fact that in those early years your child’s brain is still developing. The frontal lobes which are important for working memory and keeping things in mind are not yet fully developed, TV programs with changing scenes or those interrupted by commercials may seem like separate scenes with no coherent link to your child.

Remember the huge Baby Einstein and “educational videos” craze? Well, in reality there is no scientific research to back up that these videos benefited children at all! On the contrary research has shown that exposure to such “baby videos” among infants 8-16 months was strongly associated with lower scores on standard language development test. While on toddlers ages 17-24 months no significant effects, either positive or negative, were noticeable.

It’s worth mentioning that in 2009 the Walt Disney Company offered refunds to parents for all those “Baby Einstein” videos that didn’t make their children smarter!

However, reading to your child daily and storytelling were found to be associated with somewhat higher language scores for toddlers. Young children need human interaction for learning. This coincides with Dr. Kuhl’s findings on language development in a very interesting experiment showing that babies lean language sounds from a person not a video recording of a person. In the experiment she exposed babies to a person reading a story in Mandarin or the baby would listen to a tape recording of a person reading the books.  A third option was watching a video of a person reading a story in Mandarin.

The results? The babies only learned the Mandarin sounds from the live person!

So,What Can You Do?
  • Read stories and sing songs with your baby. This well help develop your child’s language and attention span. As well as being a first step to literacy.
  • Use an activity center with your infant. Exploring, pushing buttons, grasping and pulling objects will help develop your baby’s cognitive skills, fine and gross motor skills, understand cause and effect and just have fun.
  • If your child is a fussy eater, try feeding her during meal time. Seeing Mom and Dad sitting and eating at the table may influence her eating habits.
  • Have your toddler play with some Tupperware while you are in the kitchen. This activity helps foster spatial visualization ability by placing objects inside each other and fine and gross motor skills when grasping objects and putting the lid on and off.
  • Involve your toddler or preschooler in everyday household activities. While cooking your child can peel an onion for you or help you pour. If you are going shopping he can help point out where items on the list are on the shelves. There are so many options! Remember that what you do in a few minutes can be endlessly entertaining and a fun learning experience for your child.

I have to say that not all TV watching is bad. There are wonderful shows that do have an educational aspect to them.

How to Choose an Appropriate TV Show?
  • First, monitor what your child is exposed to. Avoid shows with violence or upsetting scenes. Research has shown that children who are exposed to TV violence may become numb to it and gradually accept it as a way to solve problems.
  • For very young children below 3, choose shows that don’t have too  many changing scenes or a cluttered background. A show were there is a static background and a main character talking directly to your child about objects that pop out onto the screen clearly is a good option. This format helps your child stay focused on the character and can understand clearly that when she hears the word “banana” and sees a picture of a banana on the screen that these two are related.
How to Watch TV with Your Child?
  • Television watching can be an active experience not just a passive one. Watch programs together and encourage your child to sing and dance along with the characters on the show.
  • Ask your child about what’s going on ? what does he thinks will happen next? point out new objects. This well help turn TV watching into a shared activity and is an opportunity for your child to learn new words.
  • Use new and funny words that you learnt while watching TV. “Supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus” from the movie Mary Poppins comes to mind 🙂
  • After television, come up with activities like drawing or outings around things seen in the show.

I hope this gives a new perspective to the use of television with your children 🙂

5 thoughts on “Is TV OK for Young Children?

  1. I can totally relate to that since we started with no TV policy and little by little due to eating patterns and wanting to take a break, we broke that policy…Adam now watch movies with us which I sense is not a good thing…so is it better for him to watch real people TV or animation stuff? I don’t know whether his mind can grasp what is happening in TV show having real characters. I feel he is more alert with fiction animals talking and such which I see an non sense as well but simply elephants dont speak 🙂

    1. Hi Karim,

      Very good question! I must say that I had to do some researching to find the answer since most popular research concerning television is more focused on attention and aggression issues.

      With regard to perception, for starters to our knowledge children under 2 don’t “see” any form of television media the same as we do because their brains aren’t developed enough to link together the different scenes. At this age they are also “designed” to learn through human interaction, because that is how they learn how real life works, form social bonds, develop language, etc…

      For older children, although I must say I have not found a scientific study to back up this claim but I would think a 3 year old does not have the attention span to sit through a 90 minute movie or put together pieces when the channels are being switched. That’s why if you do view TV you should stick to at most 30 minutes and simple real or animated shows. At this age the child can’t make the difference and doesn’t realize that these are actors.

      For 4 and 5 year olds, this study by Patsyskeen and co entitled “Young Children’s Perception of “Real” and “Pretend” on Television” found that both 4 and 5 year old can’t seem to differentiate between the two yet.
      “In another study, Brown, Skeen, and Osborn (1979) found that 6- and 7-year-olds judged a human fantasy version of the show Star Trekas more realistic than a cartoon version because of the presence of live actors and realistic-looking settings.”

      Another study by Wilson and co entitled “The effects of two reality explanations on children’s reactions to a frightening movie scene” found that the “special tricks explanation” (fake) reduced older children’s emotional responses to the movie, but had no impact on their interpretations of the program.

      With regard to elephants that don’t speak 😀 Your little boy will eventually learn that yes, elephants don’t speak. However, he needs this free and imaginative stage to develop his critical and independent thinking skills. If not then many of mankind’s discoveries might not have happened simply because they “were not possible” at that time. 😀

      I hope this was a helpful answer 🙂 let me know if you have any more questions.

      I’ve attached the article links if you are interested in checking them out 🙂

  2. Thanks very much Jailan for this very useful answer. I think this is the most comprehensive answer I ever got to a question I asked. You also answered v fast which was great. I will cut the movie issue with Adam and stick to short animated stuff if nessacry and wait till he becomes older so that we enjoy movies together. Meanwhile, I will focus of sending him outside the house to explore more rather than watch TV. Again thanks a lot for ur support and looking forward for your valuable posts

  3. My child now 10 months old has already been watching loads of Baby Einstein since he was 5 months old??? i am now worried about their effect on him after i read about the ADHS however i feel he benefits from them..but he doesn’t interact easily with strange people or people he does not see on daily basis so would you think their is a relation?

    1. Hi Dalia,
      First of all don’t worry 🙂 Young children are very adaptable and receptive to changes in the environment. The affects of TV is only if it persists for a long time but once you reduce TV viewing now and replace it with play time and social interaction he will respond very positively to these changes.

      Don’t feel that you need to “make up” for lost play time or interaction. Just go about at the normal level of play. Make time to play together as well as letting him play and explore on his own when you feel he has himself entertained. It’s a very positive way to develop his thinking skills as well as teaching him to occupy his own time. Make sure you still respond to him if he needs your help or wants to share a toy with you.

      Set a goal to minimize TV viewing as much as possible. Children do not benefit at all from the “Baby Videos” and human interaction is much more beneficial. It’s also quite understandable if you need to pop him in front of the TV for a half hour every once in a while so you can get a something done, grab a shower or just some quite time! 🙂

      As for his relationship with other people. This is probably more likely to be because at this age babies start developing a preference to certain people in their lives and start differentiating between strangers and people they know and are more wary of strangers. This is all a normal part of development. What you can do to support him is just provide him with a secure and safe feeling when you are in an unknown situation. Give him his time to venture out and explore, there is no need to insist that he hug or kiss someone when he is not yet comfortable. Once he feels comfortable in the new setting you’ll find that he engages much more positively and warmly with the person. The way to achieve this feeling of comfort is by letting him know verbally and by actions that you are there if he needs you. If he wanders off and then looks back at you, wave to him or say that you can see him to reassure him.

      I hope this advice helps you and your baby 🙂 Please let me know if you have any more questions and would love to hear back from you on how it goes.


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