What TV Does to Your Toddler

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Even before “sitterphones” (using a smartphone to entertain a young child), even before tablets, there was television, what one media expert called “the flickering blue parent.”

Recently a landmark study tracked the effect of television on developing brains, and the long-term effects on education and professions of the study’s participants. Because the study started with infants in Quebec in 1997–1998 (before widespread personal electronics), just television watching in infants and toddlers was singled out.

What the study, published in Preventative Medicine, revealed was jarring.

  • Because sitting in front of a television is sedentary for the brain, it can interfere with connectivity in the developing brain.
  • Kids who are “rewarded” with TV screen time learn to prefer tasks and activities that are less-challenging as they grow older – they are trained in a path of self-indulgence.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) is definitely connected with television watching – and the more a kid watches, the more likely he or she is to be overweight in proportion to screen time.
  • Kids who watch excessive television choose less healthy foods, with a higher preference for sweet or salty snacks, highly-processed breads and meats, and sweet drinks.
  • Low mental effort (what might be called ambition) and a preference for distraction versus challenge are both tied to watching television – and both characteristics affect scholastic achievement and eventual choices of professions.

This is not just a problem of the past!  According to Medical News Today, “Around 1 in 3 infants in the United States have a television in their bedroom, and nearly half of all children watch television or DVDs for almost 2 hours each day.”

So make the decision!  Even if it’s hard, don’t use television to distract or entertain your child!

The American Association of Pediatrics has the following recommendations:

1) Hands-on, unstructured play will be much healthier for your toddler’s brain than television.

2)  Don’t let a child under 18 months have screen time except for video chatting.

3)  Parents of children 18-24 months of age should only allow selected, high-quality videos and apps to be used while they directly supervise and interact.

4)  Children over 2 should have no more than 1 hour a day of screen time, and that with parental supervision and interaction; never at mealtime, and never closer to bedtime than one hour.

5) Monitor and supervise all television programs and downloads of apps.

6) No televisions or electronic devices in kids’ bedrooms.

Now you know about the impact of TV on toddlers, what you choose to do with your knowledge is up to you.  I’m hoping you will set boundaries that help your child be healthy.


Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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