According to a new survey, nearly half of children age two and younger watch an average of two hours of TV per day. But the American Academy of Pediatrics just issued a policy saying parents should keep children under two as “screen-free” as possible, citing research that shows harmful effects on early development. How should parents tackle the challenge of limiting media exposure for infants and toddlers in this digital age?

Toddlers and Television 27 October,2011forum

James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based non-profit which conducted the survey on media habits for kids up to eight years old
Ari Brown, pediatrician and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy on television and kids under two years old
Jessica Gottlieb, parenting blogger based in Los Angeles
Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of children's media for PBS

  • Anita

    We limit my four-year-old daughter to about 30-60 minutes of TV per day (always PBS morning shows) we don’t turn on the TV after school at all until after she is asleep. Although it fairly easy to control her tv viewing, she is also getting screen time on computers at her preschool and at home. What are your guests thoughts on young children using educational games on computers? Are these games better than TV shows or should they be treated with the same caution?

  • Assen

    Much too much television viewing at home due to being lazy on the adults’ part, but at least always have Closed Caption on, which has resulted in our
    son being a good reader, who very often catches mistakes in spelling and
    non-matches re spoken/written version of broadcast.

  • Stevv

    Any comment on eye development? Some screens are viewed from smaller distances than the old televisions – I’m thinking Iphones, being focused on with the intensity of a finely knotted rug.

  • Though I agree that much commercial television is bad for young children, I wonder if certain educational programs have a different effect on some toddlers. The finding that toddlers under two don’t “get it” does not match up with my experience with my twenty-one-month-old. He has been watching Sesame Street since he was about fifteen months old, and he is highly engaged with it. I hadn’t earnestly started teaching him to count yet, but he surprised me one day by counting to ten — I have Count von Count to thank for that! When he’s playing with me or on his own, I can see how his imagination has been kindled by the show, as he pretends to be Super Grover or tells himself stories about Elmo. He has an excellent attention span and recently I’ve allowed him to watch “Bambi,” which he is also very engaged with and likes to talk about and is also part of his “pretend” play now.

  • Jodo77

    I’m confused about why the “app gap” between wealthy and poorer children is a concern. If kids are overexposed to screens, wouldn’t having access to fewer apps, fewer video distractions, be a positive?

  • Now people even have screen in their cars for kids to be entertained as soon as they sit in their seats. Kids forget to enjoy the simple things around them and sit glued to a screen that vibrate as their car moves.

  • Alexa

    We have observed with our daughter who will turn three this December that absence of television/computer games in her life had significantly developed imagination, creativity and independence. It does require a lot of work from parents on early stages, but benefits make it worth in a long term. Interestingly enough when recently she came across  computer games – she figured them out faster than the kids who had more experience with them.

  • Mark

    I had a question about radio (sorry for being a KQED listener!). I am a stay at home dad much of the time, and in order to keep my sanity with a two year old, I listen to radio. But does this effect the child in the same ways that TV does? He can play with his trains and blocks while I listen to, well, programs like yours….

    • Junebug

      Hi Mark,  I have a 2.5 yr old son and I too will put the radio on (OPB or   pandora/spotify for music) and wonder about its effect on him.  I notice that when there is a talk program on that I want to be attentive to, like the one today, my son notices this and tries especially hard to get my attention as I am not tuned in to him, but rather tuned into the program.  Music, on the other hand, I can listen to passively and be more available to interact with my son at the same time.  Therefore, I have determined that listening to talk radio is essentially the same as as having the TV on, as it makes the parent less available and responsive to their child.  Sorry NPR!  Music is better.

  • Ashleigh Miller

    I like the idea of unstructured play instead of TV.  However, my older daughter has ALWAYS demanded one-on-one interaction, and rarely can play by herself even at age 4.  If it weren’t for Curious George, I would never have any time to make dinner, tend to my younger daughter, etc.  We consciously limit her TV time, and carefully choose her shows, but it is an essential tool in our parenting kit.  

  • lebvs

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  • David Haskell

    Michael, your speaker are missing the point. I am working on an article right now –. Mother writes after stopping TV in her home —- “I
    made a commitment to myself and my family that no matter how much it seemed
    like an easy solution we wouldn’t do it. So we stopped. Cold turkey. No more
    movies.  PERIOD and to my amazement, it
    wasn’t half as awful as I had appeared it would be. There were protests and
    whining sessions but they dissipated quickly because they had found something
    better to play with: their minds. In no time I saw the results in their play
    together from our removal of passive entertainment. It was more involved in
    intricate, their patience with each other greatly increased, and to top it off
    I actually had MORE time to get things done because they were no longer
    constantly asking for my involvement or suggestions as to what to do next
    because they were figuring it out for themselves and growing stronger and
    smarter because of it”..

    David Haskell

    • travis

      David – we have had very similar experience. We pulled the TV out entirely and set rather severe limits on other screens. It took awhile but our 3 kids learned to play beautifully together, and the normal rhythms of the household have become their more primary experience. Cheers!

      Travis in Burlingame

  • Dartangion

    We only use Netflix or DVR recordings from public broadcasting, no commercials…

    Our child learns numbers and letters, sings songs, dances, etc…it is a question of degree and content.

    Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street both have educational content that is accessible to young children.

    Moderation is the key.

  • David

    Any time I take my 6 month old to my parents house, where the TV is often on, her eye lock on it almost immediately. She does try to just stare at it. We usually do not have the TV on at home when she is in the room, but she is absolutely interested in it when it’s on. She also focus’ on the screens of phones and digital cameras when they are around. We just try to limit her exposure

  • Una76

    I find it strange that some parents rely only on tv to occupy there children while doing tasks. What did parents do when there was no tv?!!!!

    • Joe

      I’m guessing most will tell you it’s not the “only” thing.  

      Similarly, I don’t understand why anyone thinks that television, video games, etc. are to be consumed by people under 2 years of age.  Just like you shouldn’t be giving your kids sweets and fatty foods.  Some people do it anyway.

  • JenK

    I don’t think that this idea of limiting TV puts too much pressure on parents.  I’m no Wonder-Mom by any means, but I am a stay-at-home mom to two girls, ages 2.5 and 4, and they are allowed to watch a movie or an episode of Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues two or three times a week.  I can still do things like cook, shower, clean the house, and grade papers for the online class I teach.  I let them help with things when they can and want to, like with simple cooking or laundry tasks, but when I need to do something on my own, they just…play.  They pretend anything and everything, they experiment with things like magnets that they find, they look through books and “read” to each other or to their toys–they certainly don’t need a screen on to be entertained if I have other things I need to do.  I make sure they are safe, of course, but kids are more self-sufficient when it comes to entertainment than some parents seem to realize.

  • Travis

    Thank you for this terrific program. 2 comments:

    1.  Parents model media behavior. If a parent has the TV on, kids will watch it. If parents are always on picking up their blackberry or ipad kids will follow suit.  As a dad with 3 children modifying my own behavior has been fundamental to setting intentional media limits for our kids.  2. With kids the challenge is setting patterns and expectations. Giving my son the iphone in the car sets a precedent – he’ll expect it next time and be more demanding, especially if he knows I’ll give in eventually. We’ve worked hard to build a family culture of self-directed play. Some of our hardest work.

    Travis, Burlingame CA

  • Kateschatz

    My 2.5 yr old watched A LOT of Giants games w/ us last season…Now she chants “Let’s go Giants!” whenever she sees people in Giants gear. 🙂

    • Joe

      Congratulations on your indoctrination.  

  • Alexis

    I am a child psychiatrist who had an almost three year old daughter. We do not have a television and our daughter has never used a computer. I take showers, knit, cook and read while my daughter entertains herself with her toys. She has a vivid imagination and can play by herself for a long time. Television is not necessary as a babysitter and, in my opinion, stifles children’s creativity and imagination.

  • Vee

    Are there any findings about the impact positive or negative of no television for kids?  My son is 4 and doesn’t watch television at all. (I know we are in the minority regarding this). My husband and I don’t watch television either and we occupy his time with play and reading to him.  Computer time is limited to about 10-15 minutes every few weeks.  No screen time is certainly feasible.  

  • Savitha

    Sorry if I missed on this earlier, but I’m wondering what your guests think of the waldorf method which discourages media through the school years. Also, what is their stance on media used in schools – used to help kids read better or challenge kids when the teacher is busy helping others.

  • guest

    Regarding the question about having your young child watch sports with you, what about the messages about gender that most professional sports leagues send?  Unless you are watching men’s and women’s sports, watching games with your daughter teaches her that boys get to play and be strong and that girls should be cheerleaders.  If you are going to watch sports with your child, maybe try and balance that message by giving them alternate information to what they see on screen.

  • Jessica is arguing for the sake of arguing. It is embarrassing. Pediatricians are agreeing with her way of parenting but she is still continuing to argue.

  • Fay

    We watched cartoons in the 1960s and ’70s also but we also went outside
    to play! In fact, I find it hard to believe kids today could watch more
    crap TV than we did–Gilligan’s Island, for example — come on, it was
    pure junk but we loved it. But after we watched cartoons Saturday
    morning, we ran outide to be outside with the other kids. I believe what
    is being under-emphasized this morning is the hyper-vigilant parent
    that fears all unsupervised play and keeps kids indoors like housecats.
    It’s the shut-in mentality that the world outside is too dangerous that
    makes couch potato kids.

    That’s my two cents and yes, I agree that younger than two is rediculously young for the idiot box.
    The City

  • Jack

    There seems to be a disconnect here. The top EDUCATIONAL institutions all over the world are putting screens in the classrooms (e.g. they are handing out iPads to all students and professors, using educational media in the classroom, etc). There seem to be huge benefits to doing this. Can you please comment on the potential POSITIVE benefits of mobile devices and educational media in the children of the 21st century?

    • Joe

      I think you’ve missed the point of the discussion.  The focus is for infants and toddlers.  I believe this has been stated several times.

  • Joe

    I’d love for one of the guests, perhaps Jessica Gottlieb, to remind everyone of confirmation bias and the dangers of using anecdotal evidence to make large scale recommendations.   

  • Albany Parent

    Please comment on the research included in the book NutureSchock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman that indicates that educational TV (including that by PBS) actually helps teach  kids bad social behavior (bullying etc.) because many of these shows focus on a problem surrounding a character that is mean or acting in a socially unacceptable way. The research indicated that what kids take away from the program is the bad behavior shown for 3/4 of the show vs. the acceptable solution show only in the latter 1/4 of the show.

  • Kylemac7

    Even if they “benefit” from educational television, if there is national association of respected doctors that are saying NO TELEVISION for children under two, why would it be OK?  There are too many OTHER good ways for them to gain MORE benefit.  

  • Jenkran

    My son 14.5 homeschooled has had VERY limited tv and screen time his whole life. We have not used the tv as baby sitter, I was able to shower eat cook dinner unload the car what ever with out ever using the tv as sitter. When offered tv he could not pull himself away, as a little boy.
    Today he is engaged in society, self educating, and self entertaining. 
    He is also so super attracted to screen. My question is do any of your guests see a correlation between keeping screen time from and making it all the more attractive. 
    Jennifer in Fresno

  • Travis

    Though this may speak more about older children, we’ve seen a resurgence of neighborhood play, correlated to elimination of afternoon screen time. Our 3 children get no daily screen time and have to find their own fun. When another screen-free family moved in across the street, their kids started ringing our doorbell every day after school. Soon they were playing kickball and riding their scooters down the block every afternoon, and other neighbor kids soon joined in. Certainly we have an eye on safety, and are lucky to live on a block where this can reasonably take place. It’s has been surprising and heartening to see modern kids running around, healthy, exploring, making things, having conflict and resolving it, learning to live from experience.

    Travis in Burlingame

  • Destrohead

    I have a boy thats 2.5 and he doesn’t watch TV but being a musician and a son of one, I use it to introduce him to music and instruments. As a result his ears have been train to pick out anything from different types of horns to other ramdom instruments with ease.

    • Destrohead

      I forget to mention we watch u-tube.

  • Carol Douglass

    I wonder why Jessica Gottlieb is given equal time with the spokesmen for impeccably carried out scientific studies? Has she done a study of her own? Is she a scientist involved with child development? Has she polled hundreds or thousands of parents in order to form her opinion? I find it distressing when the anti-science monster rears its head, using anecdotal “evidence” and grossly general statements such as that all parents know how to do good parenting–patently untrue, unfortunately. Sadly, not all parents know how to be good parents at all, much less pay attention to details like monitoring screen time.

  • Cindy

    We have a 1 1/2 year old and we do let her some tv. It’s usually only on Sprout channel (it’s also PBS…she loves Chica and the Pajanimals!). If we’re at least limiting her to preschool type shows….is this OK?!!?! 

  • Dswillett

    There was no t.v. in our house the first 5 years of our son’s life.  Then again no t.v. from the age of 9 to 12.  Repeatedly, his teachers and Boy Scout leader commented about how he could entertain himself constructively doing things while others around him were being destructive or not able to occupy themselves.  His SAT placed him in the top 1% of his class in the nation; he’s an Eagle Scout; at 22, he graduated with a double major from Berklee College of Music.  He’s creative, loves to read (we used to read to him 2+hours per night).  When we did get a t.v. when he was 5, I sat down with him and told him about the purpose of commercials.  As an adult, he rarely wants to buy anything except what he really needs.  Yes it was hard to get anything done when he was a toddler, but it was worth it.  He has no interest in watching other people ‘do’ stuff; he does stuff himself.

  • Jenn

    As a Mom of a 5 and 3 year old, I’m disappointed that so many shows are toted as “educational” but really have no educational value.  And I’m disappointed that so many TV channels that offer children’s shows are infused with commercials and ads that just aren’t age appropriate.

    You’d think that common sense would be the solution but so many parents just don’t have common sense.  How many parents allow their young children to watch UFC? How many little girls are watching Hannah Montana?  You see the effect of this once kids enter preschool and Kindergarten – 5 year old girls are acting like they are 15 years old, 4 year old boys are body slamming one another on the playground.

    It’s not easy to have common sense as a parent.  It takes time and patience.  So many parents today just don’t say no to their kids and allow them to watch, have and do whatever they want. 

  • Ddelambert

    I have 3 children, the first two were twins.  I know all about how hard parenting is.  I never used the TV, computer or any video media as a babysitter.  When I needed a shower, I put the kids in the bathroom with me to play, or occasionally took them into the shower with  me.  I did not watch tv to relax, rather I role modeled reading as a relaxation (since that is my preferred method) and my kids are all big readers.  My kids are now 15, 15 and 12 and are bright, curious and creative. 

  • Carol Douglass

    I’m happy to read the comments from parents regarding the fact that NO TV is the best answer. Why do people think that somehow TV and game apps, etc., are necessary to life? I have not watched TV for two years and do not miss it at all. TV is certainly not necessary for having a full, or happy, or relaxed life!

    • Ummmm… you’re on a screen right now. 

      • Vee

        probably because like me, the only way to listen to the program without a radio is to stream it on a computer.  That doesn’t mean she is sitting in front of the screen.  I haven’t watched tv for the past 20 years, nor do I miss it.  My kid who is 5 doesn’t watch it either.  It’s not impossible.

        • Of course it’s not. Unless you’re leading the charge at a Waldorf school it’s also not going to get you a medal.

          Enjoy your style of parenting. I sure do enjoy mine.

          • Michael

            You might want to take a step back and realize that arguing for the sake of arguing does not convince or influence people as well as considering other people’s viewpoints and then offering a thoughtful response free of sarcasm and rude snark.

          • Vee

            I am not being self congratulatory nor am I interested in Waldorf education.  I am just saying that limiting screen time is like limiting sweets and fats in one’s diet.  It’s a choice and  it is like developing a beneficial habit. And it isn’t impossible.  I just don’t think asking parents to have zero screen time for kids under the age of 2 is an unrealistic recommendation.  

  • Sharkbass_SJ

    KQED morning radio is faaar better than anything else out there when our kids are in the car.  They often ask me questions that engages curiosity and understanding which I find are equal to listening to classical and rock music.   

  • guest

    20+ years ago we had a revelation. Our kids, then just under 2 and 5, were endlessly creative and active in their play together. They could always engage themselves and each other, whether it was play-acting, books, drawing/painting, etc. One day I noticed that when the TV came on my toddler son would immediately become engrossed in the screen. I’ll never forget the blank, slack-jawed look! When it was turned off they would go right back to their imaginative play. Since it was almost always PBS programming I realized that the CONTENT wasn’t the issue. (I sure miss Fred Rogers though, a truly great and gentle man). We always had a TV in the house, but turned the cable off for good. They ended up attending a great Waldorf school from K-8, which suggested banning all media. We weren’t perfect in that regard and frankly didn’t even try to be, but it did give them an environment where it wasn’t weird if you didn’t watch TV. Even though our kids are off to college and beyond, the cable (and the set for the most part) stay off. I also have the ability to go slack-jawed.

    • guest

      Hope my point was clear. Content is a red herring.

  • cc

    I find it interesting that Jessica Gottlieb points out that all parents have ‘common sense’, when that ‘common sense’ is being formed so much by MEDIA! We have lost a connection to ‘REAL’ relationships and intuitive connections we have with each other and nature. Maybe that’s why so many parents are looking to parenting manuals to help them. I know I didn’t know the first thing about parenting when I had my son and went straight to the library because I didn’t have the ‘village’ to help guide me. 


  • Lily

    I’m a Waldorf parent and documentary filmmaker who struggles with media in the household. As a filmmaker, I know the positive (and negative) influence that media can have on us. As a Waldorf parent, I also know that our SENSES are being dulled by media. We, more than ever, need to be in touch with our ‘instincts’ and form REAL connections with REAL, tangible, living things (like earth, wood, animals, EACH OHTER). In the early years of life especially, the SENSES are how we learn – we learn something is hot by touching it, not by someone telling you it’s hot. How do we expect kids to really LEARN anything through something as abstract/symbolic as television?  Are they REALLY learning how to read, count, speak french, etc? They are doing what children do – repeat. To REALLY learn, it’s about absorbing what words/numbers MEAN (like having two wooden spoons in your hand!). 

  • Nancycurrey

    Jessica Gottlieb sounds defensive.  The information is evenly reported, sensible and easy to understand and act upon.  Turn off the televison.

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