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The influence of TV on young babies

Useful information about the effect of TV on infants under the age of 2.
With new educational 'baby only' channels set to hit the UK in the near future, statistics showing that infants spend more time watching TV than interacting directly with their parents and research claiming to link TV viewing to disorders such as ADHD and autism, it can be difficult to know whether TV is helping or harming your baby.

The first two years of a baby's life are perhaps the most important in terms of learning and development as it is during this period that the neural pathways and connections necessary to facilitate further learning begin to form. To lay this essential foundation, babies need to explore their environment; the best way for them to do this is through active interaction and communication with others.

Although most of the research examining the effect of TV on development has so far been inconclusive, several studies claim to have found possible links between exposure to TV at a young age and an increased prevalence of attentional disorders such as ADHD and autism, communication deficits and later obesity. At the moment these links are purely speculative so you shouldn't be overly concerned, however as a precaution the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) have suggested that until more conclusive research has been conducted, infants under the age of 2 should not watch any TV at all.

The above research implies passive viewing and over stimulation to be the damaging factors of TV viewing at a young age. On this basis, if you do choose to let your baby watch TV, you should only select age appropriate 'educational' programmes (ideally they should be of a very slow pace involving only 1 adult entertainer) of no more than 10 minutes in length and limit viewing to a maximum of half an hour a day.

By interacting with your baby while they watch TV, it becomes an interactive rather than passive activity and is much better for your baby's development. If possible sit and watch programs with them so you can encourage baby to sing and dance along and emphasise any new concepts; simply chatting at them while you do the ironing will help.

You should limit TV viewing to communal family areas such as the living room (and not in your infant's bedroom) as this will facilitate the type of family interaction that helps development. Additionally, you should only let baby watch specific programs and always turn the TV off after their program finishes. Research has found that parents are more likely to interact directly with their infant without the distracting influence of TV and that background noise from the television can be detrimental to the development of language.

In conclusion, for the under 2's the jury is still out - although it is preferable that your baby doesn't watch any TV, this isn't always realistic. By limiting viewing time, playing or chatting with baby during age appropriate programs, explaining any new concepts and encouraging baby to interact with the program, any potential effects should be minimised.

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my friends son is obsessed with tv & his language development is behind, apart from being able to say the names of tv characters he watches! it is very worrying. if I go into the front room he doesn't even know im there when im saying "hello", he's glued to the screen, but what can I say to my friend? she thinks its ok. I'm just gonna be careful with my little one watching tv.
by lisamash 8th Nov 2010, 11:24am
I vowed that my baby wouldn't watch TV but when she was about 9 months old I gave in as I couldn't even find the time to have a shower in peace! She is now 15 months old and watches on average 30 mins - 1 hour of TV a day, her language development is way above average and she can take or leave the TV. If she isn't in the mood for it, she doesn't watch it. Simple.
by RuthieRoo 12th Aug 2010, 9:51am
It is not really unrealistic to not let your baby watch TV until they are 2-3 years old. I am on maternity leave with my first child and have managed to not watch one single piece of rubbish daytime TV. I live with 3 other people and if they are watching TV I simply take my baby out of the room and we go and play in my room or in his nursery. We both enjoy it and the joy I get in seeing his face light up when we play silly games and the interaction we have with each other that we wouldn't have otherwise is incredible.
In my belief, allowing your baby to watch TV knowing the risks it poses is sheer laziness.
by littlefly 14th May 2010, 4:23pm
to much tv for any child is bad ,a baby does not need to watch tv, it is only the lights and flashing colours and sounds that they are a attracted too and good quality toys can offer that.
by Teresita 6th Dec 2009, 6:02pm
my bbys 4 months old and she loves certain things on telly like fimbles n something special on cbbs is this normal she also sat infront of ice age and only missed about 3o minutes of it she loves it already and i dnt really watch telly much i just have it on so my house isnt so quiet i think she watches it more than me she loves her cartoons so what do i do ....
by taiyatai 6th Aug 2009, 9:54am
my 3 year old never watched tv until the age of 2 which we then allowed no more than half hour a day. His speech is fantastic he is speaking in very big sentences and has a much better vocab than my friends children who are allowed to sit and watch it all day everyday.
by crehman 4th Sep 2008, 8:45am
my two dds love baby tv and have been watching it for quite some time now (first on telewest and now on Sky). now that my dd is 3+ she sometimes flips to other tv stations and i can't imagine letting her watch violent cartoons or tons of commercials. baby tv is a great service for us, its quite diffrerent from the tv you seem to be talking about in your article
by baileylove 28th Feb 2008, 8:48am
It seems a little unrealistic to not let children under 2 watch any television. Our 3 month old cant take her eyes off the television when we are watching a film or the news or sport. This would mean that we would not be able to watch any television between 7am and 7pm! We do try to turn her attention away from the tv but whenever she gets the chance she will watch!
by misscris 4th Jan 2008, 9:00am

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