Am I a bad parent if I let my toddler watch TV?

Yes, I have a confession as a stay-at-home mom and researcher of education:  some of the happiest moments of my day are watching The Wonder Pets.

My most productive thoughts as a writer and thinker often arise when an odd trio of a duckling, turtle and guinea pig is saving baby animals from actually not-so-dangerous situations.  My son is not a passive viewer of television — he only wants to sit on my lap and sing the songs with me — but while I’m thinking about conceptual frameworks in educational theory, he’s happily laughing at the weird little duck Ming Ming tell us once again, “This is serious!”

My son also has discriminating tastes in television programs.  So far he just shows a passing interest in Yo Gabba Gabba and only likes Sesame Street for the Elmo songs.

But I often feel guilty about our mutual daily love of the Wonder Pets.  From my baby and parenting books, I know that the American Academy of Pediatrics states that television provides no educational benefit for infants and toddlers.  In fact, experts advise that kids this young limit screen time of any sort as much as possible because screen time takes away from learning social skills and play.  Excessive television watching in kids is blamed for everything from the obesity epidemic to hyperactivity to sleep disorders.

But when your toddler is teething and having a tantrum for the 20th time in an hour, it’s hard to have rational discussion with yourself about your potential parenting overreliance on media when you know your iPhone will distract him for three minutes.

A new study states that almost half of kids are getting more than two hours of screen time per day.  It would be easy for me to be judgmental — my kid doesn’t watch THAT much TV!  However, I only have one kid and I don’t yet have to worry about dressing myself for work while also making breakfast for my family and getting other kids out the door for school.

How do you know when your young kid is getting too much screen time?


8 thoughts on “Am I a bad parent if I let my toddler watch TV?”

  1. Stephanie Sprenger

    I have to say, I loved the Wonder Pets when my oldest was a toddler, and I look forward to watching it with my youngest. Having two children definitely does change the amount of TV time I allow- it definitely is a crutch. I am mindful to maintain a balance that feels appropriate and natural, and I appreciate reading the perspective of an educator who doesn’t draw such a hard line at NO TV time…great post!

  2. Yes, no “hard lines” here! There’s a great new post on the Parenting section of the Huffington Post about how certain TV shows — like Sesame Street — might actually be beneficial. The truth of the matter is that the “experts” will always go back and forth. You have to do whatever it takes to make you and your kids survive and be happy!

  3. jennsomethingclever

    I tried really hard to hold out until age 2. I wouldn’t even let him face the TV when someone else was watching. But when he was around 1 3/4, he came down with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease and he was MISERABLE! He already had over 100 words by then, and I knew the main concern for not letting him watch TV was language delays, so I figured, “Screw it, the worst it can do at this point is make him average.” It’s amazing how “Yo Gabba Gabba” made all the pain go away for 20 minutes.

  4. Marc Robaczynski

    Are there any studies differentiating 1) children watching tv alone and, 2) children watching tv with interactive parent/adult? My perception is that much is lost in the way of real world stimulation and learning when the child sits there idly. But if a parent is asking the child questions like “what color is the boat” or “how many sheep do you see”, a whole different phase of learning begins to occur. Granted, few parents want to become living room teachers as the television is meant more to disengage parenting, but even lemons can be made into lemonade.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Marc:) That’s a really good point, and I don’t think so, as far as what I’ve read. I agree that it’s a totally different experience for your kid to watch passively in front of the TV by himself, as opposed to interacting with a parent. And, for the parent, can be more exhausting (depending on the show being watch) than not having the TV on.

  5. To me it seems like it would be better to let them watch the TV when they are watching TV, but limit the amount rather than interacting with them *during* the show, because I think it might be a case of overstimulation.

  6. Pingback: The Five Stages of Toddler Nap Grief - School of Smock | School of Smock

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