Is TV REALLY Bad for Kids?


Last week’s 58 minute presidential address to Congress included a few electrifying moments on early childhood education. It was glorious to hear the most powerful man in the free world talk about taking time with his kids, and how important it is for all parents to read to their kids and help with homework (take note, helicopter parents: don’t help too much).


Here’s what Obama said:


“We've dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life…there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child.”


I agree wholeheartedly with Obama -- except for “turning off the tv.” Now, nonstop tv viewing has its downside, no matter how old you are. But I take issue with the broad and inflammatory anti-tv movement, and the sensationalist news headlines on the topic. There’s good tv, bad tv, boring tv, educational tv - and every mom I know is smart enough to tell the difference. I could not have raised my three kids without a television set. I could not have taken a shower without Sesame Street or Teletubbies. My children were introduced to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart through Baby Einstein videos, a welcome addition in our house, where neither my husband or I know much about classical composers.


Unfortunately, Baby Einstein and other early childhood programming have been unfairly maligned by media reports distorting research into kids’ screen time. The lead researcher on a recent Harvard/Boston Children’s Hospital study explained that her data shows watching tv doesn’t offer “any benefits or harms” to children, yet the news headline was “Allowing toddlers to watch TV could interfere with development.” This type of misreporting builds on a seriously flawed study in 2007 by researchers at the University of Washington who claimed in a Journal of Pediatrics report that watching videos temporarily delays children’s speech development. (Given how adept my children have become with verbal negotiations, I’d occasionally welcome speech delays in my household.) The widely-disseminated University of Washington study was based on telephone interviews with parents asked to self-report retroactively how much television their children had watched and to recall when their children began speaking certain words. Huh? Do YOU chart each day’s activities? Remember precisely when your child first said “cat”?



I raised my children without television or videos. No Disney movies and no Sesame Street. Nothing. We cancelled cable when my second daughter was born and I quit work to stay home with them. I took this approach when my sister-in-law who is a kindergarten teacher told me she could always tell the kids who watch TV vs. the ones who didn't because they were restless, disruptive and had short attention spans. Yes, it was a challenge getting things done around the house and when I look back, I don't know how I survived, but it was so worth it. Now that my girls are 12 and 15 I can really see the difference between them and kids who were raised watching TV. My girls are very creative and self-directed. They have long attention spans and they are rarely bored. I do not have to entertain them. They are extremely innovative and imaginative. My mother-in-law even commented on that. TV advocates will praise great educationial programs like Animal Planet etc. and I agree, those shows are great. But it is what your children are not doing when they are watching TV that they are missing out on. For example, when my oldest was three and her sister was a baby, she wanted to make a Johnny jumpup for her dolls just like the one her sister sat in that I hung in the door jamb. I gave her a craft box filled art supplies and she made one with popsicle sticks and mylar tape. If she had been watching TV, she would not have had the desire or impulse to do something like that.

Eventually we did get cable when they were 6 and 9 and they watch a few shows here and there, but they won't die if they miss American Idol. A few years ago I remarried and my new husband has three kids who were raised on TV. While he was a single dad working out of a home office, he let them watch TV, too much TV, and it has taken me three years to wean them off of it. They had no hobbies, constantly complained of being bored and needed to be entertained. That is proof enough for me that TV is not a good thing. And if you have any doubts, err on the side of caution and turn off the TV. You won't regret it. I didn't.
Carol Shwanda.


Regardless of the what the exact quote is, I agree with Leslie that most moms use their better judgment to monitor what their kids watch and how often they do so. A few appropriate programs here and there aren't going to ruin our children forever. That's the point.


I wrestle with the damn idiot box everyday. As a producer I make a living putting together television shows. But does that mean I watch television in spare time? Not so much. So now that I have kid do I want her too watch TV? Not so much. Now, there are some educational and entertaining programs on the air like Sesame Street. Huge fan. I used to watch the show when I was kid. But my daughter's only 28-months for Pete's sake there's no need for the tube to be on beyond one episode of Elmo and the gang.



From Time:,8599,1882560,00.html?imw=Y for the whole article...

"The current study did not investigate these home factors, but other research has suggested that mothers with lower education and income tend not to read to their babies as much as better-educated moms and that their vocabulary and grammar skills may be more limited, leading to insufficient verbal interaction with their children. Mothers with less education also tend to talk to their children less overall; women with more education are more likely to elaborate details and tell stories to their kids, even about ordinary events and concepts."

What that says to me is that - given the fact our daughter was born into a household of university educated book lovers - it is pretty irrelevant how much TV she watches...what IS relevant is how much we talk and read to her. It also tells me that those of us who have the education and interest in reading/writing to be both interested in reading the articles on this site and posting to it are not likely to be having much trouble with the TV and our kids...which goes to Leslie's comment that we (and the mothers with whom she has experience) are smart enough to know what is OK and what isn't with regard to our wee ones and TV. Given that our 3 yr old is continuing to be a bright cookie with excellent verbage, I - for one - am going to continue to not worry about the TV choices we make. Was it Aristotle who said, "everything in moderation..."?


Hey, Leslie, take quotes out of context much?

Here's a more detailed quote from the study author, Marie Schmidt (quoted in HealthDay News at Babycenter):
"Although our study showed no evidence of harm, parents should be aware that infants watching TV may be at risk of obesity, sleep disturbances and possibly attention problems. We don't want this study to be viewed as a license for babies to watch TV because they won't be harmed. It might be that the effects don't show up until children are older."

Not exactly the same implications as the shorter bit you quoted.

Does Mommytrack'd fact check you guys?!?