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Should Babies Watch TV?

You may have heard (who hasn't?) about recent research showing that babies who watch educational videos for infants may learn fewer words than other children. Should you ban the boob tube for good? What you need to know, from Lisa Guernsey, author of the new book Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five:

What does watching TV do to a baby's brain?
A: Videos themselves don't damage a child's brain, but screen time can take away from the face-to-face interactions babies need to build brain connections. So we need to think about what video time is replacing. And anyway, before 18 months, it's unclear whether babies even understand that the images onscreen represent something.

Is it okay, then, to have the TV on if my baby isn't watching?
A: That might be worse, actually. Research shows that when there's background noise, infants have a much harder time picking up on the conversations going on around them, so it's harder for them to learn words. It also changes how babies play. Instead of lingering for several minutes with a toy, they'll spend just one minute with it, then move on to another one. It's as if they can't focus as well.

How has this changed how you handle TV viewing with your own two kids?
A: Now I realize that I need to be much more concerned about background television than about letting my child watch 15 minutes of TV while I unwind. So much of the focus is, "How dare you put in a baby video!" when we should be focusing on the kind of environment we're providing for our kids.