Why is TV Bad for Babies?
For decades, parents, scientists and marketing departments have debated about the benefits and risks posted to children by the television. While there is still cause for debate for older children, science has definitively shown that television offers no positive effects for infants. In fact, there are several reasons why babies should not be exposed to television, either directly or indirectly, until they reach two years of age:
- Infants don't understand what they're watching. Although many so-called educational videos were released for infants throughout the early 2000s, the fact is that these videos had little effect on their supposed target audience. The brains of young infants are wired to interact with tangible, nearby objects and people. All infants are nearsighted, and the two-dimensional pictures shown on a television screen are not recognizable to them. Television is simply a blur of color and sound that the baby cannot fully comprehend. The infant may be mesmerized by it, but there is no value from watching it until the child's brain develops further. By two years of age, children are able to identify with two-dimensional objects on a television screen, and they can benefit more fully from educational programming.
- Nighttime television can cause sleep disturbances. Parents sometimes use the television as a way to lull their babies to sleep. While it's true that the light and sound can have a mesmerizing effect on infants, causing them to fall asleep quickly, the effects do not last all night. Scientific evidence suggests that babies who fall asleep under the effect of the television have disrupted sleep cycles later at night. Poor sleep is linked to mood and behavior problems as well as difficulty learning.
- If parents are watching television, they're not talking to their babies. Perhaps the greatest problem with television for infants is actually the opportunity cost. Parents who spend a lot of time watching television with their babies are not using that time to interact directly with their children. Babies learn language skills best when taught by a living person, not a television program, and children who grow up watching excessive amounts of television are often slower to develop linguistically.
- Television distracts children from play. It's understandable that parents cannot devote every waking moment to reading to and playing with their children. However, when parents need a break, they should avoid the temptation to use the television as a babysitter. Instead, allowing children to play by themselves is much more beneficial. Infants learn through play, which requires the use of imagination and critical thinking skills. As children solve problems in play, their brains develop more fully. Providing them with passive entertainment through the television deprives them of this growth and development.
Ultimately, a little television time is probably not overly harmful to infants. However, it's also not very helpful, despite what clever marketing ploys may claim. When it comes to babies under two years, the best thing any parent can do is spend time cuddling, playing, reading and talking to the child. This will facilitate healthy mental growth more than anything that could come from an electronic device.