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Babies and TV – Why TV is Bad for Babies

by DP Nguyen

in Babies, Baby Development, Parenting

babies and TVShould babies watch TV?

Experts don’t think so, but parents with babies and small children still allow their little ones to watch the boob tube. Television fascinates babies and toddlers. They love watching it, and they’ll spend hours in front of the TV if you let them. The television is a “good” babysitter; it keeps babies and little ones occupied like nothing else.

But there’s a price for allowing your kids to watch TV – their language development, social and cognitive skills may suffer as a result. Here are the main reasons why TV watching is bad for your baby.

Delayed Cognitive and Verbal Development

In a 2010 study, which was published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine researchers found that TV watching in babies can stunt their verbal and cognitive development. (Cognitive development is how a child’s ability to learn and solve problems.)

Researchers found that babies who watch TV are at higher risk for having delayed language and cognitive development at 14 months old, especially if they’re watching TV shows that are meant for adults and older kids.

By 14 months old, babies who watch TV score lower on developmental tests.

Fourteen month old babies who watched an hour (60 minutes) of TV every day scored one-third lower on developmental tests, compared to babies of the same age who didn’t watch TV.

Their developmental scores were still considered in the normal range, but the discrepancy still alarmed researchers.

Experts argue that you should not allow your babies to watch TV, because when their eyes are glued to the television, they’re missing out on talking, playing, and social interactions that are important to their learning and development.

TV-Watching Babies Vocalize Less

There was another study in 2009, which had similar results. Researchers from the University of Washington found that TV watching decreases the likelihood of babies learning new words, playing, talking, and interacting with others around them.

When babies watch TV, they become so fascinated with it, their parents are often equally as distracted, and this limits the parent-child interaction. For every hour that a baby watched TV, they heard 770 fewer words from their parent. Conversations between the baby and parent decreased 15 percent, and the overall number of vocalization (babbling, talking, noises baby made) also decreased.

This is important, because vocalization is how your baby communicates before he can talk. Cooing, babbling, and other vocalizations are the early stages of speech development in babies.

The researchers in this study found that no matter what was played on TV (regardless of whether it was baby-friendly shows or adult television shows), watching television hampered rich social interaction between parent and child. Even when the babies and their parents actively interacted, just the fact that the television stayed on (even if it was only for a few minutes), the researchers still saw a drop in the baby’s vocalizations.

Infants Who Watch Baby Videos and DVDs Learn Fewer Words

The results from the above study only validated what a 2007 study had concluded about babies and TV.

For each hour of watching TV, babies learn six to eight fewer words.

In 2007, researchers set out to examine baby videos and DVDs (such as the Baby Einstein videos) and its affect on baby. They found that for every hour each day that a baby spent watching baby DVDs and videos, these infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words, compared to infants who never watched the videos.

These educational products had the strongest negative effect on babies between 8 and 16 months old – which is when language skills are beginning to form. The researchers found that the more videos that the infants watched, the less words they knew. The TV watching babies scored 10 percent lower on language skills, compared to babies who never watched videos.

Why is TV so Bad for Babies?

So what’s the big deal about TV and babies? Why does watching television delay their development.

Dr. Vic Strasburger, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told Time Magazine:

“Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn. They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.”

Interestingly, previous research studies have shown that babies learn faster and better when they are interacting with a native speaker of their language. When they watch the same person talk on a video screen, it does not benefit their learning skills.

In a nutshell, babies benefit from social, face to face interaction with a real person. It helps them learn better. Putting them in front of a TV only delays their development.

The Recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that parents allow children under age 2 to watch television. Their reasoning is that the first two years of your child’s life is important to his brain’s growth and development. Kids need positive face to face interaction with adults and other kids.

For children over age 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only one or two hours of educational and nonviolent television programs, which should be supervised by parents.


DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick's Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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