Is TV Really SO Bad For Kids?

posted: 11/15/16
by: Katherine Sosnoff

When my son was born 15 months ago, I was well aware of the AAP guidelines that children under the age of two should avoid screens of all kinds (they have since updated their recommendations). While it felt slightly unrealistic, I dutifully shielded my son's eyes from the football game playing in a restaurant and tried to distract him from the in-flight movie playing on the screen in the headrest on our trip. But as he entered toddler-hood and became more aware of these screens, it felt increasingly difficult to completely block him from media of all kinds. In a moment of desperation on a particularly long drive to visit my parents, I pulled out my phone to show my son a YouTube video from The Muppets movie, hoping he would appreciate seeing his stuffed animal buddy, Kermit, in action. Not surprisingly, he loved it, and thus we began (guiltily) introducing little snippets of media to him here and there.

So I wondered: is TV really so bad? Most of the studies I found linking TV to ill effects, such as behavioral problems, cite excessive, passive watching and inappropriate content as major culprits of the problems arising from TV. Yet, those issues don't exist in a vacuum; it seems it isn't necessarily the TV but what kids aren't doing - playing, exploring, talking with their parents - while watching TV that's the problem.

While we know too much TV isn't a good thing, some educational viewing can be beneficial. A study published in 2015 found that 15 month-olds who watched 15-20 minutes of an educational video could recall just as much as kids who were taught the same lesson from a book. Other experts tout the benefits of watching TV as a family and taking the 'on-screen' learning offscreen, for example pointing out things you saw in the show in real life. Sitting with your children and talking to them about what you're watching and engaging with them takes away the passive nature of TV viewing.

My takeaway from all these studies? Essentially, if you're engaging with your children around minimal amounts of age-appropriate television, you shouldn't sweat it. As with everything in life, moderation is key. I certainly don't think parents should park their kids in front of the tube for hours on end, nor do I think it is the end of the world if our 15 month old watches 10 minutes of Sesame Street on an iPad. Parenting is filled with so much guilt as it is, so I, for one, am going to take 'minimal screen time' out of that equation.