Should Your Child Watch TV Before Turning 2?

If you are addicted to Google or reading everything you can about raising a child, you have undoubtedly stumbled across the recommendation that children shouldn’t watch television before turning 2. While it’s a great theory, is it practical? And how much will it harm your child should you plop them in front of a video so you can use the bathroom in peace? We dug a little deeper and found some interesting information.

Everyone Else Is Doing It

According to several studies, roughly 90 percent of children are watching TV before they turn 2. What’s more, 40 percent of infants are watching some kind of video by the age of 5 months. You might not realize it, Mom, but if you are nursing in front of the tube, someone else besides you is soaking up that re-run of “Friends.”

The truth is, many youngsters are watching TV before they even know how to walk. You might be reading this, thinking that you watched TV as a little one, and hey, you turned out OK, right? And they make educational programs that target kids younger than 2, those MUST be OK, right? Probably not, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even “secondhand” TV can affect a child’s development.

The Damage

Research shows that a child playing with toys while a TV is on will look up at the screen every 20 seconds. Additionally, parents speak less when there is background TV noise. Less talk and interaction with hands-on experiences, says the AAP, can impede your child’s language and other development.

A child’s brain grows by leaps and bounds during their first few years of life – actually tripling in mass in just the first year. The stimuli a child experiences are what shapes their brain development. The thinking is that images on TV screens are dramatically different than real-world experiences – basically, two- versus three-dimensional activity. Similarly, action on television may be broken up into shots, disrupting the natural chain of movement. Therefore, many pediatricians feel children are better served learning from real-life experiences, as opposed to staring at a screen they cannot make sense of.

As a result, children who watch TV may have issues with brain development, reading skills and short-term memory, not to mention problems with sleep and attention span.

But I Need TV for my Sanity

Many parents understandably turn to television to entertain their children so they can cook, clean or even just sit in peace for a few moments. While some families can go cold-turkey, let’s face it: many parents won’t. So what can you do to avoid major issues?

  • Try to find alternatives to TV when possible. Instead of putting on a show while you cook, pediatricians say little ones are likely to learn more from banging pots and pans.
  • Watch educational shows with your child and help them make sense of it. A video with Mozart music and bouncing balls? Allow your child to hold and play with a ball while watching. Toddlers may watch programming that teaches them the alphabet – have an alphabet chart in front of them and go through it with them during the show.
  • Limit TV time at two hours a day – period.

Experts say that once your child is 2, they can actually learn valuable skills from the right types of programming. Avoid nonsense cartoons and shoot for interactive shows that teach kids problem-solving, science, math or literacy.

Source:, “Why to Avoid TV Before Age 2,” David Hill, MD, May 11, 2013;