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This weekend I spent time with some of my family, including an aunt, her daughter in law, and her grandson. Throughout the night there were several instances where my aunt criticized the way my cousin in law was raising her son. One comment my aunt said stuck with me though. The baby, whose first birthday is next month, was staring intently at the TV while we were watching Iron Man. My cousin in law was trying to get his attention and calling his name, but he would not turn to her and continued to gaze at the TV. From her standpoint, she did not at first realize he was watching the movie until I heard her say, “Oh no Jack, you are not supposed to be watching TV.” My aunt immediately looked at my cousin in law with a look that just screamed how dumb she thought my cousin in law was and said “Why can’t he watch TV?” My cousin in law started to say “we don’t want him to” when she was cut off by my aunt who said, “TV is not going to harm a baby, why can’t he watch TV? Why won’t you let him? It is not going to do anything to him.” My cousin did not respond and went into the kitchen. That exchange caused me to wonder about the effects of TV on infants and young children.
I don’t remember watching much TV when I was a child. I know I watched Saturday morning cartoons and maybe an hour of PBS after school programming Monday through Friday (we did not get cable until I was in high school). Watching a movie on the TV was a special event for my family. As I got older, my parents put a limit of one hour a day of TV on myself and my little sister, but it lasted only about a month!
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age should not watch any television, while children two and older should watch no more than two hours a day. With children staying inside longer watching television and playing video games instead of playing outside, in addition to poor food choices, children are more obese today than ever before. The limits AAP suggests seem to make sense. A child who is not watching television can play basketball or read a book. Additionally, several health organizations claim that the development of an infant’s brain can be harmed by watching television. However, I know many mothers who love the Baby Einstein videos and PBS programming because they believe the programs educate their children. Which side is correct? I do not know. I do not have a child, so I do not have to make that choice. It seems that children watching television is like anything else that has benefits and consequences.