Should Your Child Under 2 Watch TV?

In 1999, when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with its recommendation that children younger than 2 should not watch TV or movies, doctors took a lot of heat for it. Two reasons: There wasn’t much research to back up their recommendation, and it simply didn’t feel all that realistic. After all, lots of parents rely on child-friendly shows or DVDs to entertain their little ones when they need to take a shower, make an important call, or just get a break. (Guilty!)

The AAP has since spent more than five years looking at the research on the effects of media on very young children, and today released a revised policy statement. Ari Brown, M.D., the lead author of the study, is also one of our advisors, so she gave us the inside scoop on the thinking behind the new statement. “We needed to look at it with a fresh eye and ask, ‘Is there science to support our position, or do we need to revise our recommendation?’” The answer: There’s now plenty of research to support this stance, and the AAP isn’t backing down. “We have at least 50 studies that look at the effect of media on kids under age 2, and no benefit has been found.”

Okay, you might say. So there’s no benefit. But is there any harm? Turns out there may be. “Of all the developmental concerns, language delays are the big one,” says Dr. Brown. Short-term studies show an association between young children watching TV and talking late. “We know that children who are watching TV are spending less time looking at books and being read to,” she adds. This can further hinder language development.

The AAP also looked at “secondhand TV,” which is the stuff you don’t intend for your child to watch, but have on when she’s in the room. This has its perils, too, says Dr. Brown. She described a study showing that when an infant plays with a toy while television is on, she’ll shift her gaze to the TV three times a minute. This distraction means she’s less focused on playing and she’s more likely to move on to a different toy instead of sticking with the one she’s got.

Sleep is the most important health effect found among kids younger than 2 who watch TV, found the AAP. Research shows that when parents use TV as a sleep aid for their children, it can cause irregular sleep habits and sleep schedules.

Still, you’re thinking. Popping in a DVD when I’m not able to play with my little one is the only way to make sure he’s occupied and won’t cry. “Sometimes the quickest solution is not the best solution,” says Dr. Brown. “Give your child something safe to play with—he’ll figure out how to entertain himself. It’s something even a young child is capable of doing. It may seem like a harder step to take, but in the end your child will benefit from unstructured play—it helps problem-solving skills and creativity. And if your child is bored, that’s okay.” This does make sense to me. If I had to make a list of my 3- and 6-year-old daughters’ talents, I couldn’t put “good at entertaining themselves” anywhere near the top. Wonder if that would be different if I’d always put an emphasis on learning to play on their own, with the boxes, books, Tupperware, and toys we’ve always had at their disposal.

How about you? Do you encourage independent play with your young kids? Do you let your children under 2 watch TV?

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  1. by Stephen Hayes

    On October 18, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I think that a healthy balance of tv is ok.
    I watch shows with my son but we always make it interactive and we ask each other questions about the shows. I find that he has learnt alot this way. I must admit the odd time I will leave him watching a show on his own, but I always make sure its suitable and that there are no toys around.
    As long as you do all the other things like reading books and hand and knees play I think your child will be fine watching a small amount of tv.

    However, if your child already has a language impairment or other developmental problems then tv is probably not a good option.

    I think most parents know in their heart and soul if their child is watching too much tv.

  2. by Berit Thorkelson

    On October 18, 2011 at 9:49 am

    So interesting, Kara. We’ve chosen to keep the TV off when Roy is awake. Since we have #2 on the way, and plan to do the same for her, we figure it’s going to be a long time before Roy gets TV. He still sees it when we visit friends and family, and we do flip on PBS on a sick day here and there, or screen the odd vintage Sesame Street clip on YouTube now and again, but other than that, he’s perfectly happy reading, coloring, playing with trucks, going on walks, etc., etc., etc. We thought perhaps he’d be more fascinated by TV since he sees it so rarely, but he actually seems tolerate it for just a minute or two before he wants to read a book or something.

  3. by David M.

    On October 18, 2011 at 10:24 am

    In a perfect world, sure, no TV. Plenty of people around to help mom and dad entertain their child all day long. I don’t live in that world, so my daughter has watched some shows on ETV and Nick Jr. It’s helped her learn some, and she loves to ask questions about what she’s seeing or point out what she knows. I’ll continue to let her watch some TV, and do the same with my infant son when he’s older.

  4. by Kara Corridan

    On October 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Stephen, I think you bring up a lot of good points. Especially agree that parents know deep down if their child is watching too much. The AAP is very much in favor of watching *with* your child and discussing what you’re seeing.

  5. by Jessica M

    On October 19, 2011 at 10:51 am

    I am a mother of 2 ages 5 and 20 months, my daughter who is under the age of 2 could care less about the tv. For the parents who have to limit the TV for their child under 2 is ridiculous only because there is no reason what so ever for a child that young to even be in front of the television. My 5 yr old has a tv in her room and does watch nickelodeon, and nick jr. which i feel is educational just as much as reading her a book.

  6. by Bekah

    On October 19, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I have a 3 year old and an 18 month old. My oldest didn’t start watching television until he was a little past 2 and my daughter only watches it a bit here and there while my son has his 2 allotted shows per day. Most of the time, he watches a movie while she’s napping and once she’s awake, we turn it off. I can honestly say that my kids are great at entertaining themselves. We don’t have any VTech toys and hardly any of the toys we do have, make noise. You know what happened? My kids make their own noises for different toys. Both of them have huge imaginations and I don’t think they even understand the idea of being bored.

  7. by lisa

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:00 am

    my son watches television he also plays with toys very independantly it hasnt affected how he learns he’s 11 mo old and loves fraggle rock. I’m not taking it away from him. I learned the pledge of allegiance at age 3 from watching romper room. i see nothing wrong with limited amounts of television they do to many studies if you ask me.

  8. by Amanda

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Everything in moderation. Don’t plop them in front of it all day. 20 minutes of Elmo, or Thomas the Train, or The Wiggles, or Dora–or whatever they seem to pay attention to–is fun. It gives parents something else to talk to their child about, something that their child really likes. Then maybe they’ll see a book with that character and it’ll be fun to read. Variety is the spice of life, so I say a LITTLE TV here and there (like eating junk food, or wearing PJ’s all day) isn’t fatal. Don’t do it all the time, and they’ll be fine.


  9. by me

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

    My daughter was 2.5 before I let her watch tv. It was limited to very short educational clips. She was speaking full sentences by 2 and able to string thoughts together. I believe that was due to no tv. all we had on was toddler tunes. From the time my daughter could sit up she had independent time that increased little by little as she got older. We do not have tv, only apple tv so we can control what she watches and not all the junk tv. We do not watch any tv that we want to watch while she is up. Period.I do not think “the real world” includes tv, that is a cop out. Teach your child life skills

  10. by rhita

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:11 am

    in my point of view i dont like my infant 6months old to be in tv,cause 1st his eye grade will lower 2,distruct his playing and some words that cant be heard by an infant. its good to entertain my son listening snd singing nursery and talk and cuddle and snuggle and play activity toy.thats our life.we watch tv but his not interested he loves rolling and bed playing. for me yes no tv under 2yrs old.

  11. by Rhonda

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:11 am

    We don’t have a television in our home at all. My daughter is nearly 4 now and has been allowed to watch an occasional kids movie or documentary in the the past year but never before age 2. She is able to keep herself occupied with toys and games when no one is available to interact with her. Consequently she is ahead of her peers in language skills and a very bright child. I can’t imagine using a television as a babysitter to keep my child occupied!

  12. by Angela

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I have a 3 and half year old boy and and an infant girl. My son watches a max of one hour per day of TV, although I admit it has been a little bit more lately, since the late stages of pregnancy and with my girl demanding so much of my time. He has watched TV since about 18 months, and then it was only a half hour. I always made sure that there was balance in his life with independent play, stories, outside play, etc. I agree with letting them play by themselves, however, it depends on the child’s personality. My son is a very interactive person, and we had to train him to play independently. It has been worth it, though, as now he will go to his room and play for half an hour or more. I will do the same with my daughter, although she seems much more laid back than her brother, so I don’t think it will be such a challenge!

  13. by Jody

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Well my daughter is 15 months old & watches tv at least 4-5 hours a day! She likes mickey mouse club house, dora, bubble guppies, & jake and the never land pirates. They are all educational! She know what a circle & square are bc of tv! She know how to cordinate clapping her legs then hands bc of little einstein! She speaks very well & knows how to undress herself & is learning how to put her own shes on! She has plenty of toys that we play with together & we read books every night before bed! I dont see anything wrong with letting kids watch tv. Lilly has been watching tv since she was about 4 months old!

    Roll Tide!

  14. by AJH

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:33 am

    It drives me nuts to see parents claiming how intelligent their kids are when the parents themselves can’t spell, use correct grammar, or use punctuation. Um, are you really the best judge of your child’s intelligence???

    Anyway–bottom line, be CHECKED-IN. Don’t ignore your kids all day long. Turn off (yours and their) TV, video game, computer, cell phone, i-whatever, and INTERACT with them more than that other stuff does.

  15. by Jocelyn

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:56 am

    My son is 13 months and has never been a good sleeper. After months and months of sleep deprivation, I purchased the Baby Einstein DVD series and it was the best purchase I ever made. Because my son wakes up mostly at 4:30AM or 5AM, putting in one of those DVD’s gives me a chance to catch my breath and rest a bit before I need to get up and go to work. I do watch it with him while he is in bed with me. I wanted to reference Jessica M who stated that putting any child put in front of a TV before 2 years of age was “ridiculous”. Before we start throwing out comments like that, we must understand that our lives rarely mirror the lives of our neighbors. Before I was pregnant, I shared the view point that children shouldn’t be in front of the TV…ever. Now that I have my own precious child, who prefers to be awake more than he prefers to sleep (we have tried everything under the sun to get him to sleep longer and just realized that he doesn’t need as much) I completely take back my previous notion about TV and my judging other parents. Families need to do what works for them.

  16. by gl

    On October 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

    My daughter is 2.5 and around 18 months we let her watch “Word World” and “Jack’s Big Music Show”. She loves to sing and dance and repeat the lines of the characters and songs. If anything in addition to daily and nightly reading, it has bolstered her communication skills and her imagination. Recently we have added the “Wonder Pets” since she loves animals so much. We watch all her shows with her and sing to her and dance etc. TV shouldn’t be a babysitter or your child’s sole educational tool.

  17. by Zuzu

    On October 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    We don’t own a TV. After the age of two, we’d let my daughter watch the occasional kid’s movie. I do believe her lack of TV viewing has enhanced her ability to focus deeply into activities. She can self occupy for an hour, easy. If I need to take a shower, she’s more than happy coloring or playing with figurines while I do that. If I’m cooking dinner and there’s no way for her to be included, she’s more than happy playing with fridge magnets and making up wildly imaginative stories. When it comes to TV viewing and toddlers, it’s good to have studied, though I don’t care if other parents wanna give my girl a boost on the bell curve. Go ahead and plant those kids in front of the TV.

  18. by gl

    On October 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    @AJH-There is a lot more to intelligence than proper grammar and spelling. Just saying.

  19. by Evangeline

    On October 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    For anyone to say it is healthy and they do it, let’s see your kids when they are older. TV has no good influence on children. To say that they watch educational programs, and learn from them forget that there are educational toys that they’d learn from better. It teaches the child to use their own intelligence vs. what is being fed to them. No wonder there are a bunch of sheeple running around regurgitating information on a daily basis. People need to learn how to think for themselves. TV is not a babysitter…use your head and be creative, and we all will then have competent adults in the future. Thanks.

  20. by Janice

    On October 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Overall, I agree that television for very young children should be limited. I do not think infants can really learn from television,but I do believe that toddlers and preschoolers can learn some from certain interactive shows. My daughter only watches shows I think are appropriate (many but not all shows on nick jr, disney and pbs are great) and I she really enjoys interacting with the characters. We also read often through out the day and my daughter loves books, she even sleeps with them. She can play on her own too and doesn’t need me. She will turn 2 yrs in a week.
    Is watching tv better than real interaction? Absolutely not! However, if it is watched minimally it wont harm most children.

  21. by KS

    On October 19, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you, GL, for making that point about the grammar!!!!

  22. by KS

    On October 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Sorry, GL. I meant, thank you AJH!!!

  23. by Danielle

    On October 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I let my 4 month old watch nick jr as she seems to enjoy the bright colours and the singing, however I make sure that once i’m done with chores or showering I engage with her as much as possible, for example I read her at least two books a day, I play with her, and I also sit her in her bouncy chair and give her toys to play with without the T.V on so she learns to entertain herself. This has resulted in a clean household, a baby who sleeps 12 hours and when she wakes up in the morning will just watch her hanging mobile and gurgle happily to herself while she waits patiently for me or my partner to wake up, and she takes massive interest in books and I like to carry her when we’re outside so I can show her the trees and flowers and cars and people. As long as its all in moderation I don’t see the problem.

  24. by MDJ

    On October 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    My 11 month old son is allowed to watch one of his Baby Einstein dvds per day. I love them because they play classical music and there isn’t much talking, just shapes and colors and animals…with beautiful music. My son now LOVES music and already points out some colors. I always sit and talk to him about what we are watching and feel it is a great way to balance out the playing and teaching that we already do with him. I think moderation is key to anything.

  25. by coco90

    On October 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I let my 4 month old watch an eebee video every morning while I express breastmilk, and I have the tv on in the background most of the day. He can sit up (early), plays with toys and talks for long periods of time. But at 4 months old he cant entertain himself long enough for me to do anything but eat and use the restroom. My house is clean, he never has dirty clothes, and he sleeps through the night. I dont see anything wrong with tv watching as long as you balance it out with more interactive games and playing… I will never use a TV in my room or my son’s room, I would much rather rock him to sleep and cuddle.

  26. [...] Should your child under 2 watch TV? [...]

  27. by REE

    On November 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Before I had a baby, I judged parents that let their kids watch t.v. especially those with kids under age 5. Now my child is 16 months old. As soon as I went back to work 6 weeks later, my views changed. I let him watch t.v and he is still watching t.v now at 16 months old. I do everything for him, reading…..waking up at night rocking back to sleep, etc…but I can also honestly say that t.v has helped with him talking. He repeats what he hears and love to sing and dance. He knows his alphabet and couple of other educational songs and knows how to count from 1-5. It’s amazing how much he knows. We can quickly judge others and its so easy to do so, but honestly speaking all our lives are so different, most of us have work, school, taking care of the home, etc….. With this crazy economy, we are all trying our best to be the best parent(s). there’s no need to judge.

  28. by 6 Things That Will Give You Peace of Mind …

    On November 6, 2011 at 8:39 am

    [...] Should You Let Your Toddler Watch TV? Experts Weigh In — Parents [...]

  29. by Sarah Toohey, RN

    On November 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Plenty of folks weighing in on the use of TV, in moderation. As a mom, myself, I know how much a few minutes peace can mean to unload the dishwasher or throw in a load of clothes. What harm can it do?

    The AAP has taken this stance for a reason. There is good evidence that TV is harmful to the developing mind. All that instant flashing on Nick Jr. might mesmerize and give us a break but I truly don’t think it is healthy, and neither do the experts.

    Try as hard as you can to make your baby’s interactions real interactions with a real caregiver and skip the TV under 2 and only use it with moderation after that.

  30. by Sep

    On November 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I’ve set here and read a majority of these comments, I was honestly curious of what people had to say.

    I’m not pointing fingers or trying to be rude here,but saying anything to berate someone because you don’t agree with them is rediculous.
    Their is a difference in opinion and then takeing it to a level of wich you think that you are entitled to judge someone else’s decisons. That’s just being self-righteous. I don’t think any one really wants a “back seat parent”, let alone from some random person that they don’t even know(or from someone that doesn’t even have children) ..

    As far as TV goes , Kids grow and learn at their own rate, they might even have learning disabilities like being dyslexic. Their are a lot of factors that aren’t even presented in the article . Aside from that TV is blamed to often for things.

    In my opinion I think to much of anything is a bad thing. I don’t see anything wrong with a little TV especially educational programs, or even a cartoon or two.I know some people thing that it’s bad in general and I respect the thoughts and comments of the parents here too. However(I’m sure a lot of parents would agree) as a parent it’s not always easy to know what is best, because when you look for information , you could be misinformed or where it was alright to lay your baby on their belly it’s now best to lay them on their back , or that Johnson and Johnson uses formaldehyde in some of their products and that it could cause cancer , or that one crib was safe and now it’s being recalled …. So when I look at stuff like this I take it into consideration but I do what I think is best for my family and our situation .. TV is hardly an issue at my house , and both my husband and I read to our daughter, teach her shapes and colors, work with puzzles , play Tea party and barbies, she plays on her own, she says words very well , says please and thank you , Knows her animals , counts, sing her Abc’s and spells her name and she’s not even 2 yet. She is right on track in her development, If I seriously thought that TV was a problem it would be turned off.

  31. by Kimi

    On April 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I don’t know. My son is 29 months, and I’ve let him watch TV since he was a baby. We also do other games and read and crafts, but we do allow TV watching in this house. We have a routine that the TV goes off at bedtime, and my son is OK with that because he knows it’s time for bed.

  32. [...] was a recent study just published about allowing children under 2 watch TV. The American Academy of Pediatricians has stated that no benefits have been found. Maybe [...]