Is TV Really Harmful to Toddlers?

Q: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under the age of two not watch television. I have 18-month-old twins and when I get home from work and try to prepare dinner, I turn on TV or videos for them. Do you think this is harmful and do you have any ideas for alternate activities to help keep my little ones happy at this busy time?

A: What we know about children under the age of two is that they are active, interactive, hands-on learners. We also know that they are not yet critical thinkers, so that they can't sort through ideas that come their way to decide if things are real or not real, safe or unsafe. Sitting passively in front of television, being exposed to ideas that don't necessarily match their level of understanding or their family's values, is not a good fit for infants and toddlers. In fact, two new studies in the September/October 2009 issue of Child Development further suggest that TV isn't great for kids—or their families. One indicates that children under 3 couldn't learn verbs from educational TV alone. In order for them to retain the information, an adult had to help frame and reinforce the lesson for them. The other showed that having a TV on in the background had a negative effect on parent-child interactions. Even the Baby Einstein company, acknowledging concerns about infant exposure to DVDs, is now offering refunds to those who purchased one of their DVDs between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009.

Of course, most contemporary families with young children are striving to balance work, household maintenance, family time and personal time. It is admirable that parents even attempt to cook after a long day away from their children. Add toddler twins into the picture, and turning on videos to get basic household maintenance tasks seems perfectly reasonable.

Keep dinner prep very simple. This probably goes without saying, as most parents have figured this out a long time ago. Remembering that children need time with you more than they need fancy food will go a long way towards making evenings more successful.

How do you lure your kids away from the TV? Share your thoughts below.

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