Why Children Under 2 Should Not Watch TV

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In the 1950s there were many messages sent out to parents about children’s health. Milk, educational TV, breakfast cereals, and other promotions were portrayed as being good for kids. The FDA approved the food messages and people were very trusting in the government and were just getting into watching television. When TV first came out, critics of it said that people wouldn’t have any time to be able to watch it. Much to their dismay, it was a coveted commodity and families began having a TV set in the living room and spending time together as a family watching shows. Even in the beginning, broadcasting companies wanted to gain as many viewers as possible and since television was known to be addictive, they decided they wanted to make it educational.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against television viewing for children under the age of 2 and those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming. “Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers (child care providers) for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged.”

“The first 2 years of life are considered a critical time for brain development. TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others, which encourages learning and healthy physical and social development.”

Some parents believe that educational television or videos can help a child learn a second language, prepare them for school, or enrich their vocabulary. The truth of the matter is that kids learn everything from observing those around them and being a part of their environment. The dendrites in the brain help children learn tasks and language and the “window of opportunity” is a very real thing. Television, though it contains spoken words, does not help children with language formation. Children learn when there is a connection with their caregiver and when they feel safe. Children learn language through listening to properly demonstrated speech and by eventually mimicking that language. That’s why it’s so easy for children to learn a foreign language- their receptors are highly in-tune for language reception.

Television is exciting for children because there’s sound, color, movement, and light. In general, children are attracted to electronics because these devices are very involved and curious things. Children, by nature, want to explore and learn about their world and the best way they can do that is through play. Children crave attention from their caregivers and learn more about the world around them (and language) by experiencing it first-hand, not being formally taught.

Television portrays many negatives in terms of cultural values, health, safety, fear, and violence. There is a normalizing (making it seem commonplace) of shooting, stabbing, risky driving, provocative behavior, sexual scenes, abuse, neglect, intolerance, racism, bullying, bad behavior, rule- and law-breaking, stealing, theft, burglary, betrayal, blood, mental games, sexism, and many other images. I’m not one to want to shelter my child, but there are many things that a young person should not know of or see until they are older. That’s not to say that kids will necessarily see these things on their designated kids shows, but the shows and/or news that parents watch on TV can supply children with these images and scenarios contributing to potential trauma, fear, timidity, and withdrawal.

“Children young as 2 have been found to have established beliefs about specific brands that were promoted by television advertising and parental behavior… 1-year-olds avoided an object after they watched an actress react negatively to it on video, suggesting that infants can apply emotional reactions seen on television to guide their own behavior.”

It’s not even a problem with the show as much as a problem with the commercials scattered throughout a show’s time window. Children aren’t able to decipher between a show and the commercial. They are being exposed to many brand-name products that kids generally like that are very unhealthy to eat. Most foods advertised contain dyes, artificial ingredients, chemicals in place of real ingredients (Kraft mac & cheese), GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms = unhealthy and unsafe to consume), loads of sugar, and little to no nutritional content. They want to get your child hooked young and be a lifelong customer because that’s money in their pockets. We need to “reduce [our children’s] intake of high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, fast foods, and sweetened drinks, which make up a high proportion of the products marketed to them.” There was a reform that was getting off the ground to ban the marketing of nutrient-void foods but it never got passed because some of the higher-ups were working for the companies the ban was going up against.

“Regardless of their age, children from heavy-television households watched more television and read less than other children. Furthermore, children exposed to constant television were less likely to be able to read than other children. Also, other research has shown that one-, two-, and three-year-olds’ play and attention spans are shorter in length in the presence of background television, and parent-child interactions are also less frequent in the presence of background television.”

“Parents who set time rules reported their children spent less time watching television whereas parents who set program rules reported their children watched more television.”

The most profound and powerful experiences a child can have is when they are actively engaging in “free play”, with their caregiver nearby who will intervene when the child needs something (food, diaper change, attention) or if the child is getting frustrated with the activity. Reading is another very beneficial activity for infants and toddlers. You can read to the child, have them play and mouth the book (get fabric or cardboard books), or you can place the child on their belly on a blanket with books spread out ontop of it and they can discover the books as they please.

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