So Maybe It's Not OK to Let Baby Watch TV

Lauren Flynn Kelly

A couple weeks ago, I confessed to my habit of watching/having the TV on around my infant daughter, asking the question: Is it a bad parenting choice to let baby watch TV?

The responses varied, ranging from incensed confirmations that it is indeed bad parenting and overstimulates the baby to suggestions that a little background noise never hurt anyone, especially a stressed-out parent. I agreed with the latter, that if it's background noise and you're not propping the baby up in front of a program, it's okay. I would never use the TV as a babysitter.

But then I conducted a little experiment, making sure the TV was only on at certain times of the day, and I started to side with the first camp.

Studies have suggested that infant TV viewing is associated with delayed speech, shortened attention spans, and other developmental issues, and while I can't prove this is true for my 2-month-old daughter, I can see how too much stimuli could hurt anyone's brain. Sometimes I feel like my apartment is Times Square, from the blue light of the computer screen to quickly changing images on the television to the clanging of dishes as my husband cooks a meal. It's a lot for anyone to take in, let alone an impressionable baby.

In the last few weeks, I've noticed a significant change in my daughter as she opens her eyes more and reacts to the things around her. She constantly makes new sounds and new facial expressions, and uses her hands in new and impressive ways. I don't need a study or a book to tell me that her brain is developing and especially vulnerable at this time, so if the TV is on now, it's not just white noise for her; it's commanding her attention in some way.

As a result, I've had the TV on only in small intervals. We may start out the morning with something I DVR'd from the night before as she sleepily has her first meal. But as soon as feeding time is over and she's more alert, the TV is off for the rest of the day. If there's stimulation, it's a song on the stereo or my voice talking to her or the sound from a toy, but it's one thing at a time. And I've found that it's easier to put her down for a nap or calm her in the sling with no distractions.

At night, if my husband is cooking, we alternate between trips to the kitchen to see what Dad's doing to dancing to a little song (she loves reggae!) on the stereo. But as soon as we sit down to watch The Office, she starts to fuss, so I know she hates the TV. And since she's calling the shots, I can't deny her. Plus, if Mom and Dad are watching a TV show, who's watching the baby?

Now, this doesn't mean I'm breaking up with Michael Scott altogether, but TV viewing will be for when baby's asleep. And that's probably best for my brain, too.

How much TV do you watch around baby?

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