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Guide to Toddlers and TV

When her son, Nathan, was 2, Elizabeth Lunday of Fort Worth, TX, decided a little TV couldn't hurt him -- especially since 30 minutes of Little Bear sure helped her get dinner on the table.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no TV for kids under 2, and a daily cap of two hours for those 2 and up. But other experts believe toddlers can benefit from TV, within limits. "Quality shows can be wonderful learning tools," says Tom Chiaromonte, Ph.D., professor of child development and educational studies at California's Fullerton College.

The best ways to use the tube:

Be selective. The most educational shows get kids involved and reacting, says Chiaromonte, like repeating Spanish words with Dora the Explorer or calling out numbers and letters on Sesame Street. These shows also promote routines (bedtime, bathtime) and the importance of friends and family.

Watch together. Even if you can't sit for a whole video, check in often so your child thinks of TV as a family activity.

Beware commercials. Stick with DVDs or channels with limited commercials (like Disney Channel or PBS).

Make TV work for you. Use closed-captioning to link what's onscreen with language. Or record your child's favorite shows so he can watch them when you want him to (and you can fast-forward through commercials).

Don't use TV as a reward or a time filler. Though it can be educational, says Chiaromonte, it shouldn't replace more worthy activities like reading together or playtime.