Baby and TV: My 13-Month-Old Couch Potato

baby and tv, toddler and tvBaby and TV. It’s a loaded phrase, and it begs the question: How much is too much?

I’ve worked at home on and off for years as a freelancer, and when I’m home I have one rule: No TV. Watching television during the day makes me feel lazy, so I only allow myself to watch at night. If I’m home during the day, I’m either working, reading or cleaning.

But after Harper was born, I started to spend more idle time at home, and the quiet rooms began getting to me. So I began putting on NPR or Pandora as background noise. And then started the TV.

When we get up in the morning, I put on The Today Show and watch Matt and Meredith banter while Harper drinks his bottle. Sometimes I’ll put Sesame Street on when Elmo’s World begins since it makes Harper squeal, and I sort of secretly love Elmo too. Then he worms off my lap, plays for a little while, and I leave the TV on as background noise until breakfast about an hour later. Then it’s promptly shut off.  On rainy days, I’ll put it on in the afternoon when “Ellen” comes on at 4pm. I don’t put it on for Harper — I put it on so I have something to listen to while I follow him around the house.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under two should watch no TV at all. “Any positive effect of television on infants and toddlers is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven,” it reads on the AAP website. “Under age two, talking, singing, reading, listening to music or playing are far more important to a child’s development than any TV show.”

baby and TVBut I do all of those things too, and I do them much more often than I have the TV on. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I’m teaching Harper bad behaviors: If I have the TV on and glance at it often, I’ll encourage Harper to look too. Will that turn into tantrums demanding I put Elmo’s World on? I’m afraid it might.

“I feel that letting him watch in small doses is okay,” says a mother of a 12-month-old baby boy in NYC. “I’m big on moderation. If I didn’t let him watch any, then he’d grow up only wanting to watch it once he was old enough to make that decision.  I’d rather just set reasonable limits on it as he gets older.”

Or you could never introduce it. A mother of an 11-month-old baby boy in the DC suburbs said she never ever turns it on. “He loves it. LOVES it,” she says of her baby. “But I just don’t think it serves any purpose.  Kind of how I see juice  — I don’t see a need for it (other than the occasional prune juice) so we don’t drink it.  I do think TV is helpful when I clip his finger or toenails so I’ll hold him on my lap and let him watch “Mickey Mouse Club” for those few minutes once a week or so, but that’s it. I think it’s too stimulating.”

I feel that way about many of Harper’s toys too. Everything blinks or plays music or offers ten buttons to press rather than two or three. He has no reason to focus on one toy or one task when his toys make him turn every which way when they blink or ding. And then there’s the computer. For work, I sometimes have to sit in front of the MacBook for a second with Harper on my lap. He loves banging on the keyboard — and here’s a confession: I have put Elmo on to get him to focus and drink a bottle during times when he was especially hyper or fussy.  I tell myself it’s okay because I watched Sesame Street as a kid, and I turned out fine. But I probably wasn’t watching that young.

baby and tv, toddler and tv

A mother of an 8-month-old in Boston says she allows her baby to doze with the TV on in the background at night; he’s never actively watching it. “I’m an everything in moderation person,” she says. “I’m in no way against TV and think a little bit of it is (a) perfectly healthy for kids, and fun, and (b) a necessary way for Mom and Dad to get a break! That said, my niece and nephew go to Waldorf (alternative/private school) where TV is not allowed. I notice they’re very good at creative, imaginary play. So that does give me pause. But not enough pause to totally ban TV!”

That raises a good point. If you ban TV now, will your kids be more apt to creative and imaginative play?  One mother says no, as long as you temper the TV with stimulating one-on-one activities. Her 5-year-old daughter didn’t watch TV at all until she was 2.5 years old, but her 3-year-old son started watching much earlier just because he wanted to do what his sister was doing. They’re both well-balanced, smart imaginative kids, although, she says, “Embarrassingly, my son sometimes begs, screams and throws tantrums for TV.”

While she never leaves the TV on in the background and she works hard to engage the kids in creative play outdoors, she says that she’s given up a bit when it comes to the TV. “It’s a losing battle,” she says. “I watch TV so I’m just not gonna have kids who never watch TV. It’s part of who I am, part of my life. I can’t expect them to never want to watch it when I do.”

I see her point. Right now it’s easy for me to have the TV on for an hour in the morning because Harper isn’t that interested. But once he’s older and we finish dinner, if Littles and I put the TV on, he’s going to expect to watch.

While I’m going to stick with our morning routine for now — it gives me time to wake up on those early mornings — I’m also going to try to turn it off sooner. Just like sugary juice, there will be plenty of time for TV when he’s in preschool. Why keep it on? At some point, he’s going to expect it. Right now he doesn’t even know what he’s missing.

Do you let your baby watch TV? Why or why not?



  1. Jessica O'Sullivan says:

    my younger cousins (now 8 and 13 i think…) did have a tv in the house but no cable, so it wasn’t very appealing. as they got older (especially the younger one) …well, it’s like crack cocaine when they come to grandmas where there’s the disney channel, nickelodeon, and TLC! the older one is a total book worm and i’m sure the lack of tv when she was little encouraged that, but i think it’s her personality as well. tv is such a big part of our culture that now that i think about it….well, one probably needs to teach a kid how to watch responsibly. yet another job for all you parents.

  2. I’m not much of a TV person. My husband and I watch some at night, after the kiddo’s in bed, but it’s too distracting for me to have on if I’m not watching a show, so I would rather have radio than TV for any background noise. Also, we don’t have a TV on the main level of the house, and since that’s where we spend most of the day, it’s not an issue.

    That said, my son didn’t watch much TV before he was about two, but he did occasionally watch a DVD (Letter Factory, Elmo, Thomas the Train). Now that he’s 27 months, he still watches those videos once a week or so. Maybe it’s because he’s my son, but he’d rather play with his trains or color or read his books or help me cook than watch TV. And that’s fine with me.

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