Is tv really and truly bad for toddlers or am I believing the hype?
June 3, 2008 1:31 AM   Subscribe

Where are all the research papers that say television for children under two is bad?

I stormed out of mother's group in high dudgeon today (well, actually, I quietly left, but I wanted high dudgeon!) as one of the mums turned on the bloody Wiggles. Everything I've ever read has stated that tv is bad for munchkins under the age of two. But nobody really cites anything.... my baby book does, but it says it's a flawed study and doesn't really say what the study is.

In retrospect, I should have been more analytical of the research myself. I hate what tv does to kids, but I have a feeling I'm going to have to justify my abhorrence in the next few days.

I'm looking for published scientific method papers.... abstracts only if that's all we can view for free... but I guess I should stop with my proselytising till I've got the published facts to back me up.

(And if anyone wants to support me in my outrage that a host would turn on a television when ten 20month toddlers are playing in the room and two are expressly forbidden to watch tv.... please chime in, I'm feeling like a bit of a dickhead at the moment.)
posted by taff to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If someone finds an abstract, I will likely be able to get the full-text article.

Sans documentation, you can always make the argument that you'd rather play with your child than have him/her sit in front of the tube. It would be hard for anyone to read that as dickheadish. Physical interaction and human-human interaction is crucial to childhood development, and there's plenty of research that supports that.
posted by phunniemee at 1:36 AM on June 3, 2008

The search terms you are looking for are television and cognitive development.
Here's a starting point for your research.
posted by bigmusic at 1:44 AM on June 3, 2008

Oh, and for what it's worth, I read a bit in Nature a few months back that mentioned an article about how those Baby Einstein DVDs are crap.
posted by phunniemee at 1:50 AM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: Ah, ok.
The study, published online earlier this month (F. Zimmerman et al. Journal of Pediatrics 04/2007) found that babies aged 8 to 16 months who watched such videos scored lower than other babies on the Communicative Development Inventory (CDI), a standard tool used to gague language development in infants. Babies that watched an hour a day scored 17 points lower on the CDI scale--corresponding to knowing seven fewer words than a typical baby in the study who did not watch the videos, the researchers say.
So, what that would suggest is that even the "educational" tv made for the kiddies isn't doing them any good.
posted by phunniemee at 1:56 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of the team, professor of pediatrics Dimitri Christakis, was widely quoted as saying, "I would rather babies watch American Idol than these videos."
posted by phunniemee at 1:57 AM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: I did a quick search on PubMed and turned up with those results :

Television viewing associates with delayed language development.

Chonchaiya W, Pruksananonda C.
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008 May;162(5):411-7.
Aim: To identify impact of television viewing on language development. Methods: The case-control study included 56 new patients with language delay and 110 normal children, aged 15-48 months. Language delay was diagnosed by reviewing language milestones and Denver-II. Television viewing variables and child/parental characteristics between both groups were interviewed. The data were analyzed by ANOVA and chi-square test. Adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated from multivariate logistic regression model. Results: Forty-six boys and 10 girls; mean [+/-SD] age, 2.11 +/- 0.47 years of the case group and 59 boys and 51 girls; mean [+/-SD] age, 2.23 +/- 0.80 years of the control group were enrolled. Children who had language delay usually started watching television earlier at age 7.22 +/- 5.52 months vs. 11.92 +/- 5.86 months, p-value <>2 h/day were approximately six times more likely to have language delays. Conclusions: There is a relationship between early onset and high frequency of TV viewing and language delay.

Effects of television viewing on children's development.

Vessey JA, Yim-Chiplis PK, MacKenzie NR.
Pediatr Nurs. 1998 Sep-Oct;24(5):483-6.
Because television and its explicit and implicit messages are ubiquitous in our society, pediatric nurses need to be aware of the effects of inappropriate television viewing. This article reviews physical, cognitive, and psychological effects associated with inappropriate television viewing and suggests assessment procedures and interventions that can be used with families who want to change their pattern of television viewing.

if you understand French, a short text on the creation of a TV channel for infants:
Faut-il placer les bébés devant la télé? J.-Y. Nau, Part 1 - Part 2

I couldn't get the full text of the first two articles, though
posted by nalf at 1:59 AM on June 3, 2008

Check your library for Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
posted by keith0718 at 2:28 AM on June 3, 2008

This article suggests that content is the key factor and that for toddlers, one or two hours of educational television per day is "linked with various measures of academic achievement", whereas early exposure to violent video content has a negative influence on later academic achievement.

According to the article, children under two "suffer from a video deficit such that they learn substantially less from video than from comparable real-life experiences. Moreover, weak but nonetheless worrying evidence suggests a negative association between exposure to television younger than age two and later cognitive development."

It's not clear, though, how much exposure they're talking about with the under-2 kids. I suspect that incidental or limited exposure to the Wiggles at the playgroup wouldn't qualify as dangerous. Had the mom put on one of those tacky "talk" shows, though, I think high dudgeon would have been warranted.

I'm too lazy to dig up all of the papers that the article referenced, but here's one that seems reassuring:

F. J. Zimmerman and D. A. Christakis, “Associations between Content Types of Early Media Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems,”Pediatrics 120 (2007): 986–92. Conclusion: The association between early television viewing and subsequent attentional problems is specific to noneducational viewing and to viewing before age 3.
posted by stefanie at 2:46 AM on June 3, 2008

See also this recent question: Recommended limits on kid's screen time?
posted by cocoagirl at 3:08 AM on June 3, 2008

Really you want to see what the outcomes are for teenagers and adults who were tv watching toddlers compared to their non-tv watching peers. My impression is that developmental delays in young children are often transient and delayed children are undetectable by middle school.

My watchword - everything in moderation, including excess.

(and no, I wouldn't put the tv on in what is essentially a social gathering for toddlers, otoh forbidding tv outright is not the right thing to do either, imo.)
posted by singingfish at 3:16 AM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: If you want this for your own information, that's great, but if you really want to scold other adults about their parenting, maybe you should reconsider. No television is better than television all the time, but one twenty-minute session in front of the Wiggles isn't going to damage your kid. At all. Especially if every other moment of the kid's life, you are a model parent. If you really don't want your kid around television, you should just make a polite, plausible excuse and leave. There's a good chance that the other parent might seriously disagree with some aspect of your parenting, but has been too polite to say so.
posted by cilantro at 3:34 AM on June 3, 2008 [7 favorites]

The American Academy of Pediatrics has this policy statement which lists some of the effects of television watching.
posted by gramcracker at 4:59 AM on June 3, 2008

A search for "television" on the American Academy of Pediatrics website yields a wealth of information. I, too can get many of the full articles via institutional subscription if the abstracts are all that are available publicly.

As far as how to react in the group situation you describe, I agree with cilantro's advice above. The fact is it is almost impossible to totally eliminate television from your child's life without raising them in a cave. Even though the AAP is pretty anti-TV, our pediatrician (like most, I assume) has several TV's in his waiting area.
posted by TedW at 5:06 AM on June 3, 2008

There is a book called Remotely Controlled by Aric Sigman

It was compelling enough for me, to not have the TV on for our daughter.
We simply do not put it on when she is awake. She's alert, lively and curious.

The rare occasion she sees TV, she stares and is quite motionless and unresponsive, I hate to she her like that. It's difficult, she will be exposed, I have no strategy for it yet (she is 9 months).
posted by matholio at 6:42 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh sorry, I forgot, the Aric Sigman book has all the papers he cites, listed in the index.
posted by matholio at 6:43 AM on June 3, 2008

I've been a stay at home dad for 2.5 years now. I don't like to just plunk my son down in front of the tv all the time, but there are moments when the the only grown-up in the house needs to get stuff done, and a book or toys just won't keep the kid occupied for more than a few minutes.
Then TV it is.

If I can get 20 minutes to get somethings done, so be it.

I'm pretty sure that a good chunk of my generation (mid-30's) was raised in a TV on environment, and I don't think we're all that screwed up.
posted by ducktape at 10:36 AM on June 3, 2008

i have worked for several children's educational TV shows, and the general line of every educational consultant i've met (most pre-k shows these days are staffed with educational specialists who advise on what is comprehensible and appropriate for the age group) is that children under 2 should not watch TV, and that children 3-6 should have very limited screen-viewing time (2 hours or less a day).

most of the popular pre-K shows -- dora, diego, blue's clues, little einsteins, etc. -- are meant for the 3-6 year old demo, but it seems many parents have their kids watching as soon as they can hold their own heads up. many of these shows have proven educational and developmental merits.

shows like teletubbies and baby einstein are made for pre-pre-k, and from what i understand are of very dubious educational/developmental value.

contrary to what hal_c_on believes -- most pre-school TV is focus grouped in preschools to make sure that the stories are both educational and enjoyable for kids. the good executive producers will jettison any aspect of the story that does not work for at least 60 or 70% of the audience, which i believe is why pre-K TV is so unbearable for us adults. its pacing, plots, and characters are not necessarily meant to appeal to anyone over 6.

and i'd like to second cilantro. outrage is an extreme reaction to someone turning the TV on at a toddler party. if it were something immediately physically dangerous -- say a huge open fire, or a big pool of mercury -- that would merit outrage.

while i agree that TV viewing should be restricted for children, and that nothing beats spending quality time interacting with parents, other people, and the real world, being visibly indignant and outraged is not going to persuade anyone over to your side of the fence.
posted by blapst at 12:19 PM on June 3, 2008

Response by poster: Hey wonderful folk, thank you for all your thoughts and links. I'll have a look and "best" them over the next little while. I guess I should clarify.... I have no intention of lecturing other parents about the television watching of their own children. I'm worried that I might be called to account for my extreme reaction. And I believe I should be.

It's well known in mother's group that I don't let toddlertaff near televisions that are turned on. Yesterday's host and I discussed it a few weeks ago, in a theoretical manner, and I told her I would leave mother's group if a television was ever turned on. Yesterday she turned it on anyway, so I figure she was expecting I would leave. The reason I want absolutely zero exposure is because I don't want toddlertaff to know what a tv is yet, and so therefore avoid requests for our tv or any tv to be turned on until I believe she's old enough.

These people are my friends and it's really hard to reconcile something like this without people feeling judged... in either direction. (I feel judged all the time with this.) MrTaff and I feel very passionate about this... about as passionate as we do about smoking/caffeine/religion/peanuts (none near our progeny, thanks).

I wouldn't dream of feeding meat to a vegetarian toddler, and this feels the same to me.

That's not pertinent, but I'd hate for you all to get the impression that I'm going to use your points to buttress an ugly line of argument against a dear, kind and supportive group of mums. I just don't want to be misinformed in my anxiety.... I'm neurotic enough as it is... it's best I keep my neuroses to the factual(and to myself) as far as possible. The small bits I've absorbed so far seem to support my view but I'll read further.

What I'm thinking now:
If no one asks me, I won't bring this up. I have no wish to alienate anyone. So far no-one has ever asked me why toddlertaff can't watch tv till she's two. If they do, I'll mumble something about having read something somewhere. If they want to know more, I'll give them the links. Does that sound like a plan?
posted by taff at 3:53 PM on June 3, 2008

I am 27; I was brought up largely sans TV (minimal tv while in preschool; no tv from about age 10 onwards, except for Open Learning Australia courses and other highly educational things).

About the only observable difference between me and the average four year old was that my reading level was about the same as most highschoolers; by the time I was about six, I tested out higher than most university students. Mum used books as babysitters, you see. On the bright side, books are very portable, and I did read about as much non-fiction as fiction.

As an adult, I do not own a TV, and rarely watch movies or TV shows. Someone gave a TV to me as a wedding gift; after a few years of it going unused in the garage, we gave it on to someone who felt they could use it. Should I have children, I won't be buying a TV.
posted by ysabet at 11:51 PM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: As the owner of a local mom's group.. I can tell you that it'll be much easier on you and the playgroup if you stick to the plan you mentioned. Don't bring it up unless someone asks... and even when they do, don't go into detail. Not letting your 2yr old know what a TV is until you're ready sounds pretty plausible to me. When you discuss reading something about how much damage it causes.. Mommies go on the defense because they feel like their parenting is being attacked. Even though you say it's how you feel for your kid only and you don't judge others for letting their children watch tv, many moms will defend their decision for letting babies watch tv. It's what we do. I think we want whats best for our children and if someone feels what we do is harmful, we get scared and we go on the defense.
Best of luck to you and your moms group. They can be wonderful!
posted by czechmate at 7:49 PM on June 4, 2008

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