I’m going to be 100% honest. Before I had Genny, I thought letting kids watch TV every day was lazy or negligent. I mean, just plopping your kid in front of the glowing rectangle so you can have a few minutes to yourself? Now, because parenthood changes your views on lots of things, I feel that TV time every day cannot only be healthy for your own mental wellbeing, but it can also be an invaluable resource for educating your child at any age. Of course, there are days when we watch more TV than others, and that’s when the mom-guilt starts to set in. However, by making guilt-free TV choices, you can let your kiddos have their TV time without worry.
Is watching TV bad for my toddler?
One of the many touchy subjects when it comes to parenting, TV time can raise some strong opinions on either side. Like most things, I try to find a healthy balance based on each point of view.
American Association of Pediatrics Recommendations
Healthychildren.org claims that parents should not allow toddlers under age 2 to have screen time, according to the American Association of Pediatrics recommendations. This is based upon the developmental stages of children under the age of 2. During this concrete stage of learning, hands-on experience and face-to-face verbal interactions with adults is crucial for children’s development. The AAP claims that watching TV as an alternative to this more meaningful type of interaction can be damaging for childrens’ development.
Some studies have shown that, as expected, adult interactions and children’s speech decrease when watching TV or having a TV on in the background, and in children younger than 3 who watch 2.2 hours of TV per day, there were noticeable lags in reading. The AAC claims that due to “immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers…”
However, in the same policy statement, it was stated that the key to healthy TV watching habits for children is their parents’ guidance: “The chief factor that facilitates toddlers’ learning from commercial media (starting around 15 months of age) is parents watching with them and reteaching the content.”
Essentially, putting your 9 month old down in front of a TV and leaving her for a couple hours will not result in her retaining the content. For babies, translating TV content to reality requires connections that have not yet developed. It is only when adults (more specifically, the child’s primary and secondary caregivers) help to translate TV content in a way that is understandable that the experience may become not only “entertaining” but also meaningful for the child.
How to watch TV with your toddler
Taking these recommendations with a grain of salt, I believe a good balance can be struck. Yes, we live in an increasingly electronic and neon-lit world. Screentime is going to happen at some point, whether you try to prevent it or not. The best way to navigate these waters, in my opinion, is to prepare your child for them. Basically, walk them through how to watch TV.
When Genny was about 9 months old, I started letting her watch a YouTube playlist that I had created for her while I made dinner. I know I’m putting myself out there for criticism by admitting this, but honestly I don’t regret it at all. The alternative was letting her cry and scream while I tried not to do the same.
When introducing Genny to new TV content (be it a show or a video), I would do four things:
- Watch with her, explaining things as they appeared
- Mimic the motions shown on the screen
- Repeat the vocabulary used
- Continue to use the same vocabulary in our day-to-day
- Let her rewatch the same things
We still try to follow this model when she watches new movies or TV shows.
Choosing TV content
The videos on the playlist I had created for Genny to start out on consisted of the content areas I wanted her to develop: music, sign language and phonics. I didn’t just click the first thing that said “Baby Videos” and leave her to her own devices. As a result of these videos, plus reinforcement and guidance from Ryan and me, Genny picked up on baby sign language very quickly. Her preferential form of learning has always been auditory, so hearing the same songs repeated over and over gave her a good ear for music and picking up new vocabulary. Rewatching the same sign language videos taught her the basics (“please”, “thank you”, “milk”, “water”, “eat”) as well as some less well-known words (like “turtle”, “butter”, and “avocado”).
One time when Genny was around a year old, I was making her a piece of toast. She wanted peanut butter on it but couldn’t quite say the words “peanut butter” yet. So she started signing “butter”. I didn’t remember what that sign was, but I could tell she was indeed signing something, so I went back and reviewed the sign language video she watches about food. Sure enough, as soon as it came to “butter”, I knew that’s what she was saying and asked if she wanted peanut butter. She was so happy to have gotten through to me! That encounter completely reinforced the vocabulary for her and increased her conversational skills as she was able to successfully communicate with me.
Guilt Free TV Choices for Toddlers
So, now that we’ve discussed that “guilt-free” doesn’t mean “leave your kid alone in front of the television for hours on end”. Here are my go-to picks for Genny:
- Dora – Builds vocabulary, teaches sequencing, and cultural awareness (sometimes math as well) – Currently Season 1 free on Prime Video
- *Little Bear – Teaches social skills (friendship, sharing, honesty, etc.)
- Umizoomi – Teaches math skills (patterns, counting, addition, subtraction, etc.) – Currently Seasons 1-3 free on Prime Video
- *Little Einsteins – Exposure to music theory and art appreciation – Watch my YouTube playlist here
- *Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – Teaches emotional regulation, social skills, and communication – Currently Seasons 1-2 free on Prime Video
- Ask the Storybots – Wide range of science topics explained – Currently Seasons 1-2 available on Netflix
- Pete the Cat – Exposure to music theory, teaches social skills, and encourages communication – Currently free on Prime Video + *Original book videos on YouTube
- Creative Galaxy – Exposure to art appreciation and techniques – Currently free on Prime Video
*My personal suggestions for younger children
- ABCMouse – Early Learning (songs for wide range of content areas)
- Jack Hartmann – Beginner math and phonics
- Have Fun Teaching – Phonics
- Story Bots – Phonics, beginner math, and science
- KidsTV123 – Phonics, counting, and science
- Patty Shukla Kids TV – Sign language and phonics
- Laura Berg Life (previously Smart Hands) – Baby sign language, phonics, vocabulary, and counting
See all my
While the experts divide over whether or not toddlers should watch TV at all, some studies (like this one) found increase in comprehension when 3-5 year olds watched educational television for a regulated amount of time (repeatedly on different days). You can make your own decision as a parent, but whatever you decide remember that the most important variable in any educational experience your baby or toddler has includes you. You make all the difference!
What was your favorite TV show as a child? Share with me by commenting below!
Love, Emily XOXO