On a typical day in America, 68% of infants (aged 0-2) are watching television. Up to 20% of American babies have a television in their bedrooms. That’s what a survey in the journal Pediatrics reveals. Pediatrics is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends in its media guidelines to parents that children from ages 0-2 watch NO television at all. So who’s not getting the message? The survey revealed that only 6% of the parents of children from 0-2 were aware of these guidelines. The study also indicated that ethnicity, family income, and parental education were not relevant to who did and didn’t watch TV. What’s going on? The authors of the study write: ” It is clear that in many American families, television is analmost constant presence in daily life. Among young children,this means that they will watch more television.” Baby is just following its role model parents.
Here’s the problem. During the years from 0-2 the brain is going through an incredibly rich process of transformation. The baby’s brain is a veritable thicket of dendrites or brain connections that are strengthened or weakened depending in part upon what kinds of environmental stimuli she receives. Now, baby has just come into the world, so the most important thing for her wellbeing and survival is that she spend a lot of time interacting with the real world, not watching a fake world. Through multi-sensory contact with nature, toys, people, and virtually every concrete thing she comes into contact with, she builds a cognitive and emotional map of the universe she will inhabit for the next several decades. Even a moment of time in front of the television for these little ones, is a moment when they are deprived of this multi-sensory richness.
Television, for all it is cracked up to be by media people and educators who should know better (e.g. “it can be very educational” they claim), does not have visual richness (it’s made up of pixels, not real substances), nor does it have auditory richness (infants are particularly sensitive to the hum of electronics, and digital music is no replacement for live music), and of course, importantly, there are no opportunities for hands-on interaction (a joy stick for baby is no substitute for baby’s tactile and kinesthetic curiosity about the world), and above all, there is no human contact in watching TV.
Baby is being hardwired for a lot of important social and emotional patterns that will help or hinder her for the rest of her life. If her “substitute mother” is an electronic box, rather than a warm living and loving parent, then she’s going to be wired to relate to people as machines instead of human beings. This is not a good thing for baby, nor is it good for society (we have enough evidence of people disconnecting from real human contact as it is in our fragmented culture). So, parents, don’t let your babies watch TV. Period. You wouldn’t leave them out on a busy highway. You would leave them in a room with a rabid pit bull. You wouldn’t leave them in a room with medicine bottles and electric sockets laying around. So, don’t let them watch TV. TV is the electronic equivalent of all of these other things, only instead of inflicting physical damage, the damage is subtle cognitive, emotional, social, neurological corrosion that may not even be apparent until years later. If only 6% of parents know the American Academic of Pediatrics guidelines of no television for infants, then it’s up to you to spread the word. Download a copy of the AAP guidelines (click here) and share them with other parents. Your baby will thank you.