Toddlers and TV: How Much Television Should Your Child Watch?

Kids in the US spend a lot of time in front of screens. In fact, the average child between the ages of 2 and 11 spends nearly 20 hours a week watching TV!

For many parents, this sparks some questions. Is that much screen time a positive thing? How much should they be watching? When can children start watching TV? How does it affect their development?

Let’s take a look at toddlers and TV and see if we can’t answer some of those questions.

Toddlers and TV: Developmental Considerations

The most pressing concerns that watching too much TV can bring is how it will affect the child’s development. Watching TV can impact various factors. 

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Language Development

Some may think that sitting their child in front of the television will help their language development. After all, they’re hearing words be spoken, right?

But television is missing one key factor that is a huge part of how a child develops language. Feedback. 

The most difficult part of language learning is speaking, not hearing. How the people around a child respond to the child’s attempts at language helps the child learn how to properly make sounds and use words. The TV doesn’t provide this important feedback. 

Too much screen time can delay language development. This is because of the simple fact that the child loses important practice time. A better activity is to sit and read educational books with your child. This gives your toddler the chance to hear the language and interact with you as well.

2. Social Development

Too much TV time can also stint social development. Children learn how to interact with people by interacting with people. They can’t interact with the person on the screen and thus lose that feedback as well.

3. Exercise and Health

Time spent in front of the TV also takes away from the child’s ability to play and use their imagination. Imaginative play is important for several reasons.

Imaginative play is both physically and mentally stimulating. It helps the child experience the world and learn how things work by manipulating objects and observing what happens. Plus, playing gives children a chance to exercise and starts laying the foundation for healthy habits in the future.

Sitting in front of a television for too long restricts that movement. This, in turn, inhibits both the mental and physical development of the children.

4. Vision

Babies are not born with a fully functional visual system. They require input from the outside world to develop this important sense. 

Most babies learn the basics by about 5 months of age. This includes

  • Focusing
  • Tracking movement
  • Using both eyes together
  • Basic hand-eye coordination

However, children don’t learn proper hand-eye coordination until they start crawling and walking. Depth perception and hand-eye coordination continue to develop and are not fully established until 2 years of age (or even later for some kids). 

For a child’s visual system to fully develop, they need to be looking at things. Seeing colors and shapes at varying distances all help stimulate the visual system. 

Again, you might think that the TV would help with this. After all, kids shows are full of bright colors. But it’s a flat world on a television screen and they can’t interact with it physically.

Plus, excessive screen time can lead to vision problems over time. Kids that watch too much TV are at risk for dry eye syndrome, eye strain, and even esotropia (crossing of the eyes). To learn more about how the TV affects a child’s vision and how to reduce the impact you can read more here. 

5. Violence and Aggression

Watching violence on television at a young age doesn’t mean that your child will grow up to be a serial killer. However, think about this sobering fact. By the time the average child finishes elementary school, they will have already witnessed 8,000 murders on TV

Most kids won’t necessarily suffer any ill effects from this, but perhaps there is something better they could be doing with their time. 

Also, some children do seem to display more aggressive behavior after being exposed to violence on TV. 

The Electronic Babysitter

All this being said, it doesn’t mean that your child should never watch TV. As with many things in life, it’s not only about moderation but also about how you do it. 

For many busy parents, it can be tempting to set your child up in front of the TV and use the time to get things done. After all, as any parent of toddlers knows, there never seems to be enough naps in a day to get your chores done while your child sleeps. 

But using your TV as an electronic babysitter is not recommended on a consistent basis. Rather, sit and watch the show with your child. This shows your child that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Plus, you can offer feedback and reinforce what they are learning. 

Actively engaging with your child as they watch TV helps to eliminate some of the negative effects on things like social and language development. 

Maximum Recommendation

So keeping TV watching time to a minimum is the healthiest way to go. But how much time is too much? Let’s look at the guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Birth-18 months: None
  • 18-24 months: limited access to high-quality, educational programs only
  • 2-5 years: 1 hour or less per day
  • 6 years and up: limited screen time, ensuring it does not interfere with other important activities

In today’s media-saturated world it can be difficult to limit how much TV your child sees. But if you start instilling proper media use habits from birth, you’ll help them develop properly as well as learn to use media productively. 

Time to Turn off the TV

What if your child already spends more time watching TV than these recommendations allow? Don’t worry. You haven’t ruined your child for life. 

Simply start setting some new boundaries for your toddlers and TV use. Kids are flexible and will adapt. Plus, remember that little kids copy everything. If you aren’t sitting around watching TV all the time it will be a lot easier to teach your toddler good TV habits.

To learn more lifestyle tips, be sure to check out the other posts in the lifestyle section of our blog