Is TV Really That Bad?

DO turn the TV off when the show is over

Limiting screen time to no more than two hours daily, as the AAP suggests for kids over 2, sounds simple. But it isn't always so easy in practice.

"Scarlet watches way more TV than I ever thought I'd let her," says Nora Keane, of Brooklyn, New York, whose daughter is 3. "She wants it from the time she wakes up, and it's a real battle every day to limit it."

When shutting off the TV sparks drama at home, it can be easy to leave it on for just one more show, and another, and another. But putting a cap on TV time is crucial. "It's about finding a balance," says Shelly Pasnik, director of the Center for Children and Technology, in New York City. "You don't want screen time to eclipse other activities, like playtime conversations and physically moving their bodies."

But what if your child doesn't seem to even notice when the TV is on? "It's not like she's sitting there like a drone in front of the TV for two hours straight," says Vivian Ghazarian, of Havertown, Pennsylvania, of her 2-1/2-year-old daughter. "Once she gets comfortable in her cozy little environment with TV in the background, then she plays with her toys and gets creative and does her own thing."

Yet even when kids appear to be uninterested in the screen flickering behind them, it changes the way they play. In a study of kids 1 to 3, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that background TV shortened the intervals that kids would play with toys and made imaginative play less likely. And experts warn that there's reason to believe constant TV in the background may interfere with toddlers' language development.

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