TV Before Age 2 Won’t Boost Baby’s Brain

Watching TV Does Not Help Children’s Language and Visual Motor Skills, Study Shows

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 02, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

March 2, 2009 -- Watching television before age 2 won’t boost a baby's IQ, according to a new study on the effects of TV on children.

Researchers found that children who watched TV as infants did not reap any language or visual motor skills benefits by age 3, compared with children who did not watch TV. But watching TV did not appear to harm their development either, once researchers took other factors into account.

"Contrary to marketing claims and some parents' perception that television viewing is beneficial to children's brain development, no evidence of such benefit was found," researcher Marie Evans Schmidt, PhD, of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School, says in a news release.

"In this study, TV viewing in itself did not have measurable effects on cognition," Schmidt says. "TV viewing is perhaps best viewed as a marker for a host of other environmental and familial influences, which may themselves be detrimental to cognitive development."

TV Doesn't Help Babies Learn

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television viewing for children under age 2, researchers say most babies born in the U.S. watch between one to two hours of TV a day.

In the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed information on 872 children. Mothers completed questionnaires about their child's TV viewing habits when they were 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years old. The content of what the children watched on TV was not included.

At age 3, the children's language and visual motor skills were evaluated using two standardized tests, including the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test III, which is associated with IQ.

Preliminary results showed increased TV viewing was associated with poorer scores on these tests, but those effects disappeared after controlling for factors known to affect babies' mental development, such as mother's age, education, household income, and marital status.

Although this study suggested that the effects of TV viewing at an early age on children's development are neutral, researchers say follow-up studies are needed. Previous studies have suggested that watching TV does more harm than good for babies.

"TV exposure in infants has been associated with increased risk of obesity, attention problems, and decreased sleep quality," researcher Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health, says in the news release. "Parents need to understand that infants and toddlers do not learn or benefit in any way from viewing TV at an early age."

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Schmidt, M. Pediatrics, March 2008; vol 123: e370-375.

News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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