In the Loop

Never thought I'd be so happy my kid likes TV

Posted at 12:17 PM on September 16, 2008 by Jeff Horwich (8 Comments)

I'm home sick today.

In fact, the whole little family is sick with what seems like the same cold: mother, three-month-old son, and me.

Teletubbies.pngI'm sitting here trying to get some work done while S. reclines on an infant pillow and watches...the Teletubbies. This is his first experience with them--a DVD we bought the other day. But at just three months he can tolerate Sesame Street and seems to really love another PBS show called It's a Big, Big World (which I'm now recording for him every day).

It's not just a special treat because he's down with a cold. Maybe it's wrong...certainly I've absorbed something about child-rearing that suggests that it's wrong...But we've found ourselves actually excited by the fact that he digs TV. He laughs, he kicks his legs when there's music, you can see his little brain working as he tries to process what he's seeing.

And of course, it gives us a break from having to carry, entertain, feed, and mop up his chin at all times.

According to the American Association of Pediatrics, babies under two shouldn't watch TV. They warn that, while there's nothing conclusive, it might even cause ADD. Yikes.

snook.jpgOf course, I think the vast majority of parents cave in and turn the TV loose on their kids earlier than two. At this stage, S. has a hard time making it through reading even a short book to him...after about five minutes, he's squirming and hollering to be or do anything besides sit in a lap and look at pictures. And we certainly do love to entertain him, make faces, baby-talk, all that stuff. But you can't do that constantly.

It's not just that TV is a fall-back, though. What I'm most surprised to feel is that...I might actually be doing him good. Because when I'm not there making googley-eyes, the Teletubbies can be. Even though he's just three months old, I wonder if the basic lessons, bright colors, and friendly voices on Big, Big World aren't helping him appreciate that life is a fun, exciting place. (Image at left of "Snook," the big sloth star of the show, via

Of course, the big danger with young kids and TV is that you can overdo it. I take solace in the fact that his day care doesn't have a TV in sight.

But I'm still torn. TV good, or TV evil? I'd like to believe...all things in moderation. But does that hold for babies and TV? I'm haunted by the pediatricians.

(And, as I engage in my first ever serious Teletubby-watching, I think the jury is still our on whether Tinky-Winky is gay. Really, is he any more gay than the rest of them?)

Comments (8)

When my daughter (now 17) was a baby, I worked nights and her mom worked days - so I was home with her every day.

And while I did my best to use the TV as a babysitter as little as possible, I came to look forward to Channel 2's two daily showings of "Barney" more than anything. It completely enthralled her, and gave me two half-hour stretches a day where I could do dishes, go to the bathroom, have a cup of coffee, or just walk around without her right there with me.

So when I've heard people (especially child-free people) ripping on Barney over the years, I shook my head. If y'all only knew...

Posted by MBerg | September 16, 2008 1:18 PM

My little girl is 19 months & we're just starting to let her watch tv. As Jeff & Mitch mention, its amazing what a difference it makes in the ability to get something done besides 100% child care. I think the key is in not using the TV habitually & still making sure to get play time and story time and outside time, etc.

And Snook, by the way, seems like a HUGE stoner.

Posted by bsimon | September 16, 2008 2:40 PM

I have three kids and the oldest watched a fair amount of TV from birth on, and the youngest is 21 months and has yet to watch anything other than some Vikings while snuggling with Daddy. The middle child got less TV than the older and more than the youngest. Now this isn't a scientific study of course, but the oldest has been diagnosed with ADHD. The youngest is the happiest and most agreeable of the bunch. That says something to me. As a person who has raised two babies with TV and one baby with no TV, it's really not that much harder to ditch the TV for kids under 2. You don't have to entertain them all the time, in fact - one of the biggest bonuses is that they learn how to entertain themselves. Alot of kids with overinvolved parents and/or lots of TV never learn that skill (and it IS a skill that needs to be learned) and so they cling to mom or dad whining whenever the TV isn't on or someone isn't playing with them. Do yourself a favor in the long run and shut it off now. It will be waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy harder to shut off later.

Posted by Elizabeth | September 16, 2008 9:37 PM

Oh, just wanted to add though, that when i'm sick the TV goes on and stays on until I am well again. I think that is a good use of TV's addictive power, especially when i'm throwing up :-)

Posted by Elizabeth | September 16, 2008 9:38 PM

Thanks for the terrific set of comments. I'm learning from you all.

And to bsimon, I had the exact same initial thought about Snook! Oh well. Most stoners are harmless, right?

Posted by Jeff Horwich | September 17, 2008 10:31 AM

Well...I'm going to be a downer in this group but here goes...TV has a purpose with under two and that would only be if the parents need a short break every now and then.

The brain makes the most neural connections within the first few years of life. The eye contact that a child makes with there parent (when doing all that googling) is actually stimulating positive brain growth in the front of the brian where empathy is developed. Big study on this one with children in the Romanian orphanage - kids have a big black hole in this spot on the MRI because they had no eye contact with an adult they are excited to see to stimulate growth in that area.

Also, a good person to watch in the research field on this is Dimitri Christakis. "The number of hours of screen time at age 1 will increase their chances of having attention deficity by 28% when they are 7 years old... The reason for this is called the orienting affect. When a baby is confronted with a novel sight or sound they cannot help focusing on it. By rapidly changing colors, sounds and motions, screen time for children effectively forces a baby's brain to stay at attention. If his or her gaze wanders, the action quickly rivets it back to the screen." It may seem the infant is engrossed in the screen and loving it but actually they just neurologically can't pull away. This is rewiring their brain, in simplistic terms, a manner it wasn't intended to be.

I could continue on...but seriously...just read the research on this one. Yes you can say its only for a little bit a day, but is it worth it considering what damage could be done?

And yes I do have children and I also work full time and need a break too. And no I'm not an overinvolved parent. Just someone who had to do a lot of research on the topic for her job and what I found out scared the hell out of me.

Posted by joann | September 17, 2008 2:07 PM

My 2 1/2 yr old Daughter just LOVES It's a Big, Big
World. Has loved it since she was 5-6 months old.

Sadly, it isn't on when I am home with her any more. Guess I'll have to break out the 'ol VCR or pony up for a PVR. I honestly think that interacting with her about The World Tree and taking care of our environment plus other life lessons such as consideration and respect really bonds us and teaches her lots of things.

Plust the facts that the songs are songs that are catchy even to us adults as well as not nearly annoying as Barney or the chitter chatter of Tele Tubbies (which I swear is replaced by In The Night Garden (TreeHouse channel).

Posted by Cory | September 29, 2008 6:43 AM

Wow -- this is terrific feedback. And it has actually shaped what we're doing. Joann, you kind of put the fear of God in me! And he's had only limited TV since I saw your post.

It helps that now he's in daycare full time. That means fewer hours-upon-hours where we need a break at some point. He's also getting better able to entertain himself, at least for short periods.

The TV is still on around the house -- and when it is, it's amazing how his head will swivel to meet it. But for now we've stopped putting him down in front of it because "he likes it." Your post gave me a good sense that what seems like him "liking it" may in fact just be putting his brain on autopilot. (Shouldn't be so surprising, I guess: He likes TV for the same reason most of us do!)

Unfortunately, now it's me who's kind of missing Big Big World. Is it wrong if I still turn it on from time to time? :-)

Posted by Jeff Horwich | October 1, 2008 2:44 PM

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