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Babies and TV – Why TV is Bad for Babies

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.

About the author: 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.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Nancy D. Richardson February 17, 2017, 2:40 pm

    I often let my baby watch cartoons while cooking. Maybe the next timeI will get him a toy instead

  • Katharina Siemens December 29, 2016, 4:24 am

    Great write up and well referenced. I agree TV isn’t good for kids! Actually, too much TV makes my toddler really grumpy. For example, he’s much grouchier after watching TV for 1 hour than compared to spending 1 hour playing outside. The difference is huge! We try to limit TV as much as possible. My husband and I actually decided to cut TV out completely. We caved in after a couple of weeks though, as it was just too hard. TV is a babysitter, yes, but sometimes, I just need those 15-30 minutes to get something done quickly, without my toddler getting in the way. My second son, whose only a few months old, is going through a phase, where he doesn’t nurse well when my oldest boy makes a bunch of noise around him. He gets way to distracted. So, TV acts as my babysitter. I turn on a favorite show for my toddler and sneak into next door to feed my baby. It works really well. So I guess, TV is a bit of a necessary evil around our house.

  • FoA June 18, 2015, 8:11 am

    Its only bad for a baby to watch tv for too long

  • n April 19, 2015, 12:06 pm

    So you are telling us that doctors sat babies in front of a tv for hours everyday and studied these children over time. I highly doubt that. My daughter and my son both watched shows on sprout and baby first and they both developed language fine. My son is 11 years old and is extremely intelligent. I hate bs that gets thrown out and makes parents feel like they aren’t parenting right.

  • dorothy August 12, 2012, 9:55 am

    my 10 month old always plays in the living room and the TV is always on but she doesn’t always watch it unless the music to the show catches her attention. she loves music and will dance and yell at the TV screen. when she was just 2 months old my mom and I used to watch Murray, the Jeremy Kyle show, and Steve wilkos, she would sit in her swing pointed at us not the TV and she still knew what was going on and would make the oooooo sound on Que before the audience on the show did it was so cute and funny. now she is an early walker and already starting to talk and we did watch tv and cute movies like tangled and finding nemo.

    I know the TV is bad for her and i maybe a bad mom but then why does my daughter always problem solve and already starting to talk and walk early? i can’t limit how much she watches since were we live is not my house and they always have the TV on i can’t just go and turn it off and not have them yell at me for it so i learn to deal and i try to interact with my daughter as much as i can and she will let me (she gets distracted easily)

  • Carla December 2, 2011, 8:28 am

    My 16 month old daughter talks as well as most 2 1/2 year olds. Even the pediatrician says so. She says well over 150 words and strings 3 sometimes 4 words together. She watches TV every morning and she interacts with the characters on the shows. She only watches PBS kids. She dances and sings along. If it is a show teaching letters she will say the letter. She knows most of the letters of the alphabet and can count to 10. I agree that kids should not sit in front of the TV all day, but a little is ok. It can even be a good thing and a learning tool if you watch the right programs.

  • Christina August 26, 2011, 11:14 am

    I’ll let my son watch educational shows (sesame street, Super Why), he loves to yell out the letters and numbers when they do! We also watch Wheel of Fortune & Jeopardy together, he yells out the letters when the people do! But we also spend 80% of the day playing outside with the neighborhood kids, and playing at the park, and taking long walks. Everything in moderation people!

  • Maryan Canillas June 25, 2011, 10:38 am

    i think i’m luckier. my son interacts with the tv as if what he’s watching is alive and in front of him. he dances along, sings along, and chants along. but there are also times when he’d simply drop off tv watching to play with his toys instead. ;p

  • Mickey May 19, 2011, 3:20 pm

    My first two children couldn’t have cared less if the tv was on. This baby, though, picks up the remote and points it at the television, trying to turn it on!

    I agree that it isn’t good for babies.

  • Paige May 18, 2011, 11:39 am

    My inlaws thought I was crazy when I told them it wasn’t good for babies (mine was a couple of months old at the time) to watch tv. Thanks for posting. Please check out my blog at http://thecrunchymamacita.blogspot.com/ 🙂

    • Cheyenne December 14, 2016, 2:40 am

      What liintarbeg knowledge. Give me liberty or give me death.

  • RachelJoy May 18, 2011, 8:11 am

    I can’t even get my baby to sit still for 5 minutes let alone sit through a 30 minute sitcom. So the only time he watches TV is when it’s turned off. He loves seeing his reflection in the black screen!

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