TV for Babies: Is it Good or Bad?

In many households, DVDs have replaced books, especially for children under 2-years-old. This is due in large part to marketing claims that educational movies/television shows will stimulate infants’ brains and in turn raise their IQ.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics has long endorsed no television time for children younger than 2, a new study in the current issue of Pediatrics confirms the rationale behind this position.

A article reports:

Marie Evans Schmidt, a research associate in the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston, studied more than 800 youngsters from birth to three years, recording the time they spent watching television or DVDs, as reported by their mothers, as well as their performance on language and motor skill tests. On average, the babies spent 1.2 hours a day watching TV during their first two years of life, slightly less than the average viewing time reported in previous studies.

In her initial analysis, Schmidt found that babies who spent more time in front of the TV performed worse on language and motor skill tests at age 3 than those who watched less. But once Schmidt and her team controlled for other factors — namely the mother’s educational status and household income — the relationship between TV viewing and cognitive development disappeared. That means that TV viewing in and of itself did not appear to influence babies’ brain development; rather it was a parent’s education and finances that mattered more. “Initially it looked like TV viewing was associated with cognitive development,” says Schmidt, “but in fact TV viewing is an outgrowth of other characteristics of the home environment that lead to lower test scores.”

The current study did not investigate these home factors, but other research has suggested that mothers with lower education and income tend not to read to their babies as much as better educated moms, and that their vocabulary and grammar skills may be more limited, leading to insufficient verbal interaction with their children. Mothers with less education also tend to talk to their children less overall; women with higher education are more likely to elaborate details and tell stories to their kids, even about ordinary events and concepts. And studies suggest that parents who talk and gesture frequently to their babies early on have a significant impact on their children’s vocabulary and language competence by school age.