Should Parents Allow Babies to Watch TV or Movies?

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A Mommybites reader asked:

Should my baby watch TV and/or movies?

My answer to this question is not going to make a lot of parents happy but my answer is no. Babies under two-years-old should not watch TV or movies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends NOT putting babies under two-years-old in front of television or movies.

Screen Time Can Have Adverse Effects on Learning

The AAP feels that television and movies could affect babies’ development and could have long-term negative effects. One such effect is attention problems when they are older. The AAP feels, as do I, it is much better to have parent-child exchange and play involving reading to your baby, interacting and playing with age appropriate toys, singing, playing music, doing baby movement and baby yoga, playing baby games like peek-a-boo, etc. Your baby responds much more positively to your speaking directly with her rather than sitting in front of a screen listening to whatever program is on even if its targeting babies.

Jean Piaget, the well known child psychologist who wrote about infant and toddler development and whom much of child development theory is based on, stressed it is important for babies and toddlers to interact with their environments where they learn and develop and that they need that concrete interaction with their environment to progress to the next developmental stages. Television and movies take babies away from this essential and practical interaction that babies need with the world around them. It also takes away the opportunities for babies to learn and develop through this interactive interface. Screen time also takes babies and parents away from spending time together and talking and communicating in an intimate and loving way.

Babies’ language development for example is greatly influenced by how much parents and caregivers talk to babies even if they are only describing the world around them. When babies are placed in front of a screen they are just passively receiving whatever sounds and visuals the program they are watching. Babies are not interacting with the screen but instead being very passive where there is no need for the baby to respond with the screen.

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Limited Screen Time

However that being said all parents need a break especially parents who are the sole caretaker at home and do not have a nanny, babysitter or family member to relieve them. If you feel you have to put your baby in front of a screen (i.e., television or movie) it’s essential to limit that time to very short time. There are some DVDs you can get that do have opportunities for parents and caregivers to play and interact directly with their baby while watching the DVD with their baby such as Baby Einstein or Sesame Beginnings.

One thing about taking a baby to a movie theater is that the large screen can be frightening and overwhelming to babies – who can be distressed by the size of the actors on the big screen – even if the movie is targeted to children. Also, the sounds in movies can be very distressing to a baby or toddler as everything on the big screen can be seen by a baby or toddler as powerful and intense. Even if your baby falls asleep during the movie, she is still subconsciously hearing and feeling the effects of the movie.

In my opinion we are all constantly bombarded by screens whether they are televisions, movies, iPads, iPods, computers, Facebook, etc. I actually think it’s important for babies and toddler and even preschoolers to have activities that do not involve screens or minimally involve screen time.

Babies and children need the social interaction and actual playtime to interface and explore the environment to grow and develop. Screens such as televisions, computers, movies, etc can potentially encourage a lifetime of sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, obesity, exposure to violence and inappropriate programs. Children can always learn computer and other technical skills and see movies at an older age. However they cannot go back and redo those important interactive opportunities to learn, develop and bond with their caregivers.

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Expert: Dr. Gina Lamb – Amato MD

Gina is a general pediatrician and developmental pediatrician who works at Village Pediatrics and Agho Medical practices both in Manhattan, NY. She has a masters in child therapy and works with a child psychologist Rosa Vasquez PhD performing office and home consultation for newborns and parents, office and home developmental assessments, school consultations and parent child playgroups where play and art along with baby massage and other techniques are used to help parents bond and support their child’s development. Formerly, Gina was the Director of Pediatric Special Medical Needs before she went into private practice where she cared for medically fragile infants and children. She is also a Early Intervention Pediatrician for Early Intervention which assesses and treats infants from age zero to 3 years. She has extensive experience in Early Head Start programs which work with infants from prenatal to 3 years of age. She is the mother of a beautiful daughter who is 3 years old and the joy of my life. Her husband is an artist, producer and owns Synchronicity Space, a non-profit arts organization that supports emerging artist in fine art and theatre. Finally, she is also an artist who paints mainly babies and children.

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