The Weekly Check-Up Atlanta

Secondhand TV

Being a good parent starts with keeping the kids safe. You have to be thoughtful and vigilant, especially with toddlers, to keep curious children free from dangers around the house. Storing knives and toxic cleaning products and other household chemicals out of reach and in locked cabinets is clearly important to prevent direct injury. Other, indirect causes of injury to children include repetitive exposures to toxins in the environment such as allergens, and secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke in particular has gotten lots of attention for its deleterious effects on the health of children. Recent research has lead many pediatricians to warn against an indirect exposure that can stunt the intellectual growth of children under age two… TV.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised against exposing children under the age of two to ANY television since 1999, due to research that shows children under the age of two who watch TV have stunted language development and poor attention spans. Instead, the Academy recommended independent play and interaction with parents and siblings.

Disturbingly, there are more and more videos and television produced for children two and under. Many of these products state that they are educational. These claims are unfounded – “educational” media has never been shown to help children under two learn. More interactive, unstructured play facilitates children’s language to develop normally. Unstructured playtime is the oldest and best way for babies to become smart, well adjusted kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics re-released these guidelines, along with some new additions because so few people got the message ten years ago. One of the new additions is the recommendation against watching television around your kids. Believe it or not, there is evidence for so called a “second hand television” effect. Studies have shown that parents talk to their kids less when the TV is on. Child development specialists have long known that there is a correlation between the amount of time a parent talks to their baby and their language development.  Even if what’s on is not for them, babies and toddlers will glance at the TV 3 times per minute on average, even if it is across the room. That’s a serious distraction for a developing mind. While an association cannot prove a cause and effect relationship, it certainly does give a concerned parent good reason to limit screen time.

So if you have a child two or under in the house and you want to click on the TV and relax with your baby near by, maybe reconsider. Parents did the same with cigarettes for decades and unintentionally did harm. We all could use a bit more activity and less screen time in our lives. We as adults are supposed to get less than two hours a day of TV a day, while in reality the average American gets around twice that.

Try going for a walk, reading a book or even catch up with a friend with your baby in arm. That’s best for both you and the baby!

Be well,

Dr. Bruce Feinberg