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How Much is Too Much TV Time for Toddlers?

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Updated on Mar 6, 2012

From television to movies, iPads to portable DVD players, it seems like technology was designed to give you a quiet moment from your toddler. But is the TV really the best babysitter for your child? Ninety percent of parents allowed their toddlers to watch some form of electronic media and 43% of toddlers watch it every day, according to a survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics. While there are differing opinions on the subject, most experts agree that a ton of TV shouldn't be a regular part of your toddler's schedule.

Too Much Telly

While the occasional episode of Go, Diego, Go probably won't make a huge difference in your toddler's development, making the TV your child's sole entertainment could mean dangerous repercussions for development. A report by the AAP found that poor sleep patterns and a lack of problem-solving skills can haunt toddlers who spend too much time staring at a screen. TV-watching is a sedentary activity, adding up to a serious waste of time when it comes to fostering physical development.

Basic Guidelines

The AAP warns parents to limit TV time, recommending that "children under age 2 should be as 'screen-free' as possible." Dr. Deb Moberly, Associate Professor of the Early Childhood Division of Teaching and Learning at the University of Missouri, agrees. "Replace TV time with parent-toddler interactions through playing with toys, singing songs, going for walks or reading stories," she says. "Children construct knowledge through doing things, or what educators call 'hands-on' learning. Television is abstract and passive on the part of the child." It's up to parents to decide how much screen time is okay for their little ones. Here's a breakdown of screen time guidelines:

  • 0 to 6 Months. TV doesn't need to factor into a baby's schedule at all. Infants don't understand what is happening on the screen and probably won't be interested in TV, so try looking at board books with high contrast pictures and interactive pages to bond with your babe.
  • 6 to 12 Months. As your baby gets a little older, you might find that she's more interested in the TV, but don't use that as an excuse to set her in front of the tube so you can get some work done. Face-to-face interaction is what really fosters a baby's development. If you must use the TV, choose shows that are slow-moving and calming, since loud noises and flashing colors can be upsetting for younger babies.
  • 12 to 18 Months. Your toddler might show preferences toward certain programs, and it's tempting to let her indulge in back-to-back episodes. However, it's better to watch a singular program without commercial interruption. If you have a DVR, try recording her favorite show so you can skip through boring or inappropriate commercials. Keep an eye out for shows that promise to make your child smarter - the AAP found that no program can actually make your child smarter, whether or not it has "Einstein" in the title.
  • 18 to 24 Months. Your older toddler might start asking for the TV all on her own. Instead of flipping on Nick Jr. and walking away, sit down and watch the show together. That way, you can point out interesting things, have your toddler repeat certain words and spend time together. Once the show is over, go do something else so that the TV doesn't become a major player in your day.

It's up to you to set the TV rules, but knowing the facts can help you make the most educated decision. While 30 minutes watching a program won't derail your toddler's later success in life, those are 30 minutes that you could have spent playing and laughing together instead.

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