Whole Parenting Family

The Damage of Media Use on Infants and Toddlers: Turn It Off!

TV rots your brains, right? That’s what our moms told us as kids. But our generation had hardly anything close to the media use and screen time that kids are exposed to today. Media for children is a multi-billion dollar industry. Every cartoon character has lunch boxes, cereal, fruit snacks, back packs, placemats, cups, and more, all designed to get to consume more! More media usage, more material stuff, and more sugary unhealthy food.

Two questions: why not have your infant/toddler use multimedia devices and how do you survive as a parent without them?

1) No media exposure for infants and toddlers: why not?

The American Association of Pediatrics came out with a strong stance against television and screen time for children under the age of 2 in 1999 with studies backing up their recommendation. The recommendation: no TV under age 2, and very little TV from 2-4. The AAP came out this week with a renewed Media Use Statement (“Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years.” By the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee. Pediatrics, Vol 128 No. 5, November 2011), and reiterated its prior findings and recommendations of no media use for small children based on its actual detrimental effects. So not only is there no evidence of positive effects of media exposure, but TV watching under age 2 is actually HARMFUL to brain development.

Watch the presentation here. Really, if you have a TV, computer, smartphone, or any of those screen things for kids, watch this and learn about the effects of your products on your kids.

Read this article in Wired about the new stance by the AAP: here.

Read this article in Time that emphasizes the dangers of “second-hand television”–all that background TV is harmful as well: here.

Read this article in Christian Post that discusses the delayed learning impact of media use: here.

The list of key findings of media usage by infants and toddlers that the AAP puts forward: as listed here.

  • Many video programs for infants and toddlers are marketed as “educational,” yet evidence does not support this. Quality programs are educational for children only if they understand the content and context of the video. Studies consistently find that children over 2 typically have this understanding.
  • Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media. Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play. Free play also teaches them how to entertain themselves.
  • Young children learn best from — and need — interaction with humans, not screens.
  • Parents who watch TV or videos with their child may add to the child’s understanding, but children learn more from live presentations than from televised ones.
  • When parents are watching their own programs, this is “background media” for their children. It distracts the parent and decreases parent-child interaction. Its presence may also interfere with a young child’s learning from play and activities.
  • Television viewing around bedtime can cause poor sleep habits and irregular sleep schedules, which can adversely affect mood, behavior and learning.
  • Young children with heavy media use are at risk for delays in language development once they start school, but more research is needed as to the reasons.
Recommendations to parents and caregivers:
  • Set media limits for their children before age 2, bearing in mind that the AAP discourages media use for this age group. Have a strategy for managing electronic media if they choose to engage their children with it.
  • Instead of screens, opt for supervised independent play for infants and young children during times that a parent cannot sit down and actively engage in play with the child. For example, have the child play with nesting cups on the floor nearby while a parent prepares dinner.
  • Avoid placing a television set in the child’s bedroom.
  • Recognize that their own media use can have a negative effect on children.

If these reasons don’t compel you to turn off the media for your infant or toddler’s sake, I don’t know what would. But I do know that media can buy parents a few precious moments to shower, calm a screaming baby, or have an adult conversation over dinner. So here are few proposed ideas on running a limited media household.

2) Surviving without media use in your household.

The biggest reason I hear that people need the TV on, computer screen up and running, or IPad out for their child is distraction. Parents need a moment to themselves, especially those at home with children, and more especially those with multiple children. Maybe that time is for a much needed shower or to prep food, or to slow down sibling fights. Consider the alternatives for distracting children.

Set up a safe child play area that means you can go to the bathroom or work at the stove or sink. A pack & play could do the trick for younger children. Sometimes J has to stay in his crib if I’m going to shower and didn’t get it done while he slept. He’s miserable, but he can’t climb out yet. A tub full of tupperware might do it for older toddlers while you’re in the kitchen together. A screaming child who is miserable and wants your attention now may have to stay in his or her high chair while you finish up what you’re doing. Or put the baby in a carrier and have the toddler sit on the floor and color you a picture (and risk crayons getting on the floor) to accomplish what you need to around the house. Be creative! Think outside the box (literally, as in, the TV box). Try to get family to help out more with babysitting so you can do things you can’t do safely with kiddos around. Find a neighbor babysitter that’s trustworthy. Give your child a book that can be destroyed to paw through, put on classical music (soothing, calming, or at least intellectually stimulating), and give up on media use.

We are a media-free household for little J. He has never watched TV, doesn’t interact with computers or smartphones (except to listen to classical music without the screen on), and doesn’t have batteries in any of his toys. Is it trying and difficult at times? YES. Is it worth it for his neurological development? Double yes. If I can do it, and I’m no super-mom, you can too!


  1. Elizabeth Jones on October 19, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Totally agree. Though what to do about a spouse who CONSTANTLY has that damned television on? ACK! Quite honestly, I’d be ok with throwing it away.

    [Sorry, this post hit a nerve apparently]

    • jencliffdominic on October 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

      I’m in your same boat Elizabeth! Hubby LOVES that damned TV from the moment he gets home. I have come to accept it and just ensure that baby isn’t facing it, he’s turned the other way.

      N, I give you fifteen thumbs up for having a battery free, multi-media free life for J, that’s AMAZING and you ARE a super momma for doing so! I try my hardest but it gets lonely sometimes when it’s just us two and some music playing. Sometimes I just need the tv on to hear other peoples voices in the background. But the one thing we don’t allow is D to watch tv etc. Just so hard when the other half HATES to read etc. and just watches that damned TV… great post!

      • Novice Natural Mama on October 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm

        How frustrating, J! It sounds like you’re doing the best you can. The main concerns the AAP cited about second-hand TV was that it decreased the verbal interaction between parents and toddlers, thereby increasing the likelihood of delayed speech. Maybe your hubby would like reading the Wired article? It’s pretty short and scientific/modern. It helps that it’s the AAP that is making these recommendations as they are the epitome of main stream. My in-laws think we’re hippy/crazies for no TV/no sugar, so if this recommendation were coming from my coop or my midwife, it could probably be more easily disregarded as “out-there” by them.

        I hear you on the loneliness! That’s when I use my headset and call my other mama friends or family. Or try to plan doing things in between naps. Although as winter encroaches upon us here in the land of the tundra and it’s dark practically all the time, I’m probably going to be going into hibernation/loneliness mode more too.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      That is so tough, but maybe if he read a few articles on it or watched the 23 minute video of the AAP’s findings presentation he would see merit in a change? Education seems to be the most effective tool about medical stuff like this. It’s not like it’s your personal opinion that C shouldn’t be exposed to TV. It’s medical fact that it’s harmful! Maybe that is a more persuasive means (the “here, you read it”) than my natural inclination which is to preach at people about topics like this 🙂

  2. Vivian's Mama on October 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    It’s pretty scary how detrimental the tv can be and how pervasive it is in our world. I remember countless hours of playing with my siblings as a child and very few movie nights ( which were a special treat). That’s what Im hoping for with my little one, but how to escape the computer and iPhone, especially while working from home? It’s a conundrum for our generation of parents!

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      So true and so tough! It seems like if one is determined to ensure baby’s primary place of hangout doesn’t have a screen in it, and working from home parents can have a separate space in which to work, that may help. Or even just facing the computer towards the wall so that the baby can’t see it? Tough stuff!

  3. abbyanderson on October 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    all valid points but i just have to say we have so much to worry about, feel guilty about and frankly i am not going to beat myself up because my two year old watches tv or has trucks that blink and make noise.

    i totally can respect why some people don’t want any media in their kids lives but to each their own. i just feel like we are so overwhelmed with things we NEED to do or else our children will be failures and i personally feel like i will do what i can and will do everything in moderation.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 20, 2011 at 9:23 am

      All parenting choices are personal, and baring serious physical or emotional trauma that requires some kind of child protection services intervention, we really do get to figure out costs and benefits to each of our decisions: pacifier or no/ vaccinations or no/ organic food or no/ media use or no, etc. The most important thing to me is that as parents we make informed decisions and weigh the pros and cons to figure out what works best for our families, as you totally do, Ms. A. You have a beautiful little toddler and number 2 will be just as sweet and precious, to be sure.

  4. AA on October 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Aspiring to less or no television isn’t an easy thing, but I think it’s like any habit: it simply takes time and repeated efforts to change. It’s similar to music. When N and I started listening only to classical music in order to saturate J’s environment with it, it took time adjusting to only hearing that. Now, that’s what our senses are accustomed to. We seek it. Striving for less media is a joint effort. If a husband isn’t on board at first, don’t lose hope. Talk about it. Implement only certain periods of the day where the tv is on, and see if you can stick to it. Something else that is helpful is stepping out of a routine for a short time. A trip somewhere without television, and only books, talking, walking, or sightseeing is a good way to get the ball rolling. Engaging with our surroundings is wondrous. Great post, N!

  5. Kim on October 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Great post! We have been pretty deliberate about our son not sitting, staring at the TV, but the background media noise is something I hadn’t really considered. The TV isn’t on too much, but it is a good reminder to be aware of what is (and isn’t!) happening when the tube is on!

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

      That was something we were unaware of as well until I read about it! We would watch movies when J was really little, snuggled in bed between us, and just keep the volume low and him away from us. Learn something new every day!

  6. mothering spirit on October 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    I blogged about this as well. I find it interesting that this medically-backed advice is ignored so widely, by many parents who follow the AAP’s guidelines on so much else related to raising young children. But as you point out, parents need practical, helpful alternatives to TV – and maybe this is where the medical community (and others who are concerned) need to step up their efforts.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      It is totally perplexing to me that people can ignore scientific research on behavioral and cognitive functioning of children. On the other hand, I get that parents need a little (or longer) break. Good point that the medical community could proffer something in this direction as well.

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