Screen time Debate – Is TV Bad for my Baby & Toddler?

This is one of those topic of conversations that can lead to an argument – screen time for babies & toddlers.

I think it can get heated quickly because no Parent likes to feel judged in their parenting and I would hate hate hate (yes three times for emphasis) to make any parent feel that way.

When it comes to these kind of controversial topics, I like to get the facts, then decide on a plan for my family, knowing them. I also know it won’t be perfect stick to the plan 365 days a year, but at least this is a general stand point.


Team TV vs Team no TV

Many parents are happy for their babies and toddlers to watch cartoons on their tablets or TV. Many will say my toddler learns from it! We’ll call them Team ‘TV is fine, my baby watches it all the time and even learns things’.

Others may have read about guidelines for ‘screen time’ from the education experts and their warning messages about how they can cause harm. Or just be following a certain philosophy that encourages play over media viewing. These parents offer no TV at all. Lets call them Team ‘TV is bad’.

I know not everybody will fit neatly into these two groups, since they are the both extremes. But I have heard from and know parents in the two camps. Whether you’ve picked a team or not, if you are open minded about discussing screen time for babies and toddlers -0-3 years olds,  let’s talk.

Let’s start with the facts, guidelines, dangers, AND what you can do to keep your child healthy and developing, in relation to screens/media. But first:


A story & a balanced diet of play

I remember the first time I let my baby have screen time. Before then, we had agreed and tried really hard not to let her watch any TV at all. She was about 19 months old.  I googled nursery rhymes and a YouTube video of sing-along-songs and nursery rhymes popped up.

The video had millions of views and as I watched her mesmerised, dancing and enjoying it, I could see why parents would rely on tablets/TV to keep their children occupied and get some peace and quiet! Who doesn’t like ‘beta thing’.

But, at this age, my daughter was talking in two or three word sentences, and playing at least four times a week outside the house, in the morning, with other children. Screen time was introduced to a ‘balanced diet of play & learning’ she already had daily. This is how I comforted myself that it was OK. She would also sing along to the songs, many of which she knew from listening to the CD and us singing, so she was actively consuming the programmes we were watching – then only sing along songs and nursery rhymes, strictly.

I had started doing the research already at that point to find out what the dangers and any positives really were.

The facts from experts on media use for young ones

What we know about screen time for young ones (from research that has been carried out by experts):

1. To learn young kids need to be playing and actively interacting with people & objects around them. This includes being read to, playing with toys, singing & listening to music, engaging in stimulating & sensory play, talking to adults and enjoying active play.

2. TV and tablets are not educational. Sometimes the labels say they are educational, for example, baby Einstein and other such programmes for kids, but it has not been proven that TV for babies and toddlers under 18 months of  age is educational. (I think this is one of the most contentious points – many will fight that this is simply not correct).

3. It is possible for TV and tablets to affect your child’s speech, contributing to a delay in talking! The experts have researched and proven this.

4. TV and tablets could affect your child’s other cognitive development including development of their fine motor skills, problem solving and gross motor skills, because it’s time they are not spending working on these. These they have seen a link with but cannot say it’s been proven yet.

5. Other areas that may affect your little one because of excessive media intake is sleep, weight issues, attention issues etc.


Toddlers & screen time effects on speech

One of the biggest issues I see and hear about from Mums is speech delays (with absence of health issues)!

Some Parents are waiting for their children to say words. The milestone tracker says to expect 50 words by age two as a guide, and it can be frustrating when just before that point or after, your child does not have up to ten words. (Though every child is different, there has to be room for that even with milestone trackers).

In many of these examples, though not all, the toddler is watching TV or tablets for hours a day. She may be missing out on time that could be spent developing her speech, which is best done through talking to other adults about things around her, being read to, listening to singing, exploring a variety of places (will introduce more words) etc

There are situations where, a nanny for example, spends 8am to 6:30pm with a toddler, and only talks to the child to give them instructions, the rest of the time, the child is watching TV inactively (so not getting up or playing, simply staring at the screen) or a cartoons on a tablet. They bath in the evening, more cartoons and then bed.

The child looks healthy and is fed and very loved by well meaning carers & parents, but what you cannot see is the development that is lacking through little or not as much play and interactions with the world around them. And this is where cartoon watching is not replacement for real & stimulating play.

Now, there will be children who are in the situation above and speech is fine, other developments on track, too. That is also possible.

I think Mums, if they can, should try not give their kids screen time before that child has a good number of words they say clearly and that’s typically after baby’s first birthday. But sometimes if you look at your child’s play diet and it’s full and stimulating, well, you may judge that you have more room to be more relaxed on screen time. But let’s see what the current guidelines from the experts at AAP, actually say.


American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines on screen time

-extracted from this article by NPR

So the AAP guidelines recommend that kids younger than 18 months do not watch cartoons or tv on screens. Instead they say children should continue to explore and interact with toy/objects and people around them! FaceTime or Skype with loved ones is an exception – that is fine! What is new is that the guidelines now acknowledge, on the basis of new research, that there is a healthy and positive place for screen time in the lives of kids older than 18 months. In the past they just said no TV before age 2 years.

But only when these two conditions are met:

1.First, the screen time has to be parent time. That means time where parent or care giver sings or chants along with the child. Or asks the child questions and engages them or applies what they’ve seen to their every day activities.

2.And, second, the programme your child is watching — like Sesame Workshop and PBS Kids — should not have too much going on.  If your child is overtly mesmerised by the colours and fast changes on the screen, they may not actually take in the substance of the show. If you can, find content that your child can focus on and get something out of.


Setting guidelines and limits on media use in your household

From the research done and speaking to Mums, it’s clear that most households will choose to allow some screen time, either after (or before) the 18 month mark. In our household, we allow some screen time now, for our nearly 2.5 year old, but we have introduced limits and rules. These are some examples, similar to what we have, that you could implement at home.

  1. Consider limiting to only in the weekend or only after a certain time in the day.
  2. Find one or two cartoon series that you, Mum or Dad have watched and are comfortable with or nursery rhymes videos.
  3. Use the IPad or laptop rather than TV. This is because then you can turn it off and put it away. Out of sight out of mind. Whereas if they’re watching on a TV screen that is in a living room, it could act as a constant reminder for baby, that they could be watching cartoons.
  4. Do not download cartoons on your phone or introduce them to watching them on your phone. We usually have our phones on us quite a lot. I’ve noticed that removing this option, or never doing it, can really cut down on your children’s screen time. Put toys, books, in your car, and play music.
  5. Limit the hours when they do watch. One or two hours each day during the weekend, for example. Decide whether to add Friday or not to weekend viewing.
  6. If you have a nanny, I would recommend not letting the nanny give them screens to use. That’s a whole human being available to supervise them through play, reading, singing etc. Draw up an age-appropriate a play schedule for your nanny and have her follow it. This is a good rule to practice if you use laptops or ipads as you could simply put those away.
  7. Get Daddy on board. Get Daddy fully agreeing to the rules. Mum & Dad being consistent in the message put out will help your young one.
  8. Provide good alternatives to TV. Our children being bored sometimes is not a bad thing- its good for stimulating creativity. But if you can have a few things out that they could play with, it sets them up for independent play and hopefully removes or reduces the request for cartoons.
  9. You might make exceptions to the rules,if your child is sick. Remember to tell them clearly that it’s because they’re ill, so there’s no confusion.
  10. Consider not putting a TV in your children’s rooms or play rooms.
  11. When you can, watch together, ask about what they watched, talk about experiences or objects seen in the cartoons that match your child’s own experiences or objects they have seen or interacted with.
  12. Let playing be normal. And you can tell your child this too. You’ve enjoyed your screen time, well, now it’s time to play.


More play usually means more mess, let’s be honest. TV is mess-free and easy. I have a child who absolutely loves wet or messy play, or both. This means frequent clean ups, sandy floors indoors and some mess almost everyday. But I keep telling myself, it is a small price to pay for the development and learning.

Another funny thing is, most of us grew up with plenty of play – outside too. I grew up in Lagos and as a youngster I climbed trees, played in the rain (I would put my swim suit on and jump around with my sister) and would sit and play with plants and sand outside till maybe even secondary school *covers face. Yes, I was a late bloomer, but thats something so rare these days.  Our children’s childhood is becoming shorter and shorter. If we prioritise play more and more (the type that does not involve screens) we could be making a big difference in their lives.

Are you still reading? that means you made it to the end! You can’t see, but I’m doing a dance for you. Before you check out another page, lol, I want you to do two things:

  • Share some comments on your views on TV & tablets so far, what you’re doing, not doing in your household..
  • Share what you think about screen time having read all this. Be brutally honest please. I can handle it.




  • My son just clocked one and he’s been watching nursery rhymes and ABC songs on YouTube on my tablet since he was about 6 months old. He now watches Sesame Workshop, PBS kids on TV and Barney & friends on YouTube.
    Basically, I only let him watch shows that are educative. I see that he now dances when music comes on and can identify animals I read to him, e.g I show him a picture of a dog and then bark. When I show him Flashcards, he picks out the dog.

    I enjoyed this article and learnt a lot from it. I’ve even shared it so my husband can read as well. I was discouraged about reading to him because he gets so playful and I get impatient. I’m expecting him to repeat the words to me but he doesn’t, he just laughs and sometimes would rather put the Flashcards in his mouth. He just clocked 1, so maybe I’m just in a hurry.

    I’ve tried to make him say, ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ but he hasn’t. Instead he has started saying ‘hallelujah’, which I never even actively taught him.

    I’ll reduce the screen time and read to him more.

    Thanks for this informative article.

    • Dami, I am so pleased to hear you found it helpful and that you shared it with your husband too.
      And your sons words will come sooner than you think. Keep reading to him and talking to him about the things and people around him.
      Have a wonderful weekend.

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