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TV for Tots?

Experts talk about the pros and cons of letting very young children watch TV.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jack Sid put his hands behind his head and sat down on his couch to watch a little television after a hard day at … Mommy and Me.

Jack Sid is 2 years old and one of a growing number of toddlers who spend some downtime in front of the tube. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, two-thirds of children aged 6 months to 6 years watch TV daily. Among the youngest children – those less than 2 -- more than four in 10 (43%) watch TV daily.

So it's no wonder that a new baby-targeted cable channel called BabyFirstTV, as well as all those infant-friendly educational DVDs, is getting a lot of buzz. That's not to say this development doesn't have its share of critics. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for one, does not recommend television for children aged 2 or younger. For older children, the AAP recommends no more than one to two hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs.

Others, however, point out that such black and white boundaries are merely shooting the messenger and that television can be a helpful medium for encouraging important interactions between parents and children.

TV and Children Under 2

"Our major concern is that children under 2 have brains that are actively developing physically and are not fully formed and [development] seems to be dependent on normal interactions," explains Daniel Broughton, MD, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "Just sitting and watching TV may be harmful for [development]."

Some research does link early TV viewing with attention problems, says Ken Haller, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "Kids are probably better off watching less TV the younger they are," he says, adding that each hour of TV at ages 1 and 3 increases the risk of attention problems at age 7 by 10%.

"There is no research showing TV watching is beneficial in children under 2," Broughton adds. "There are many other ways to interact with children that are excellent and have been around for centuries."

Parents should read and talk to their children and play with toys with them, Broughton says. "You don't need a TV to interact. Just spend time with your kids."

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