Baby Owen is always on the go. From daily stroller strides with his mom, Kimberly Peterson, to playgroups and field trips, this 1-year-old from Libertyville is too busy to watch television.
"There are all these conflicting reports of what’s good for baby, what’s not good for baby," Peterson says. "We just haven’t really needed it."
Peterson may soon be in the minority.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, more and more parents are putting young kids in front of the tube. This in spite of an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that kids under age 2 not spend any time in front of the TV.
Many baby programs are marketed as educational. But some development experts say babies who watch TV are missing out on important human interactions and are drawn into the world of consumerism at far too young an age.
The Kaiser study found that more than eight in 10 children under age 6 use screen media. Among children under age 2, more than four in 10 watch television daily.
"The ship has sailed. These technologies aren’t going away," says Alice Cahn, vice president of programming and development for Cartoon Network. "Parents need to become gatekeepers."
Infants’ programming may be here to stay, but that doesn’t mean parents have to turn it on.
"It’s worrisome that while these young minds are forming, they’re sitting in front of the boob tube," says Stanley Greenspan, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School.
Interactive experiences build healthy minds, Greenspan says. Television, on the other hand, is one-way communication between the set and the child. Greenspan opposes any media use among the very young, and even preschoolers should have limited television access, he says.
"There’s no research that shows babies need it all," agrees Sharon Syc, assistant professor at Chicago’s Erikson Institute. "If we focus on using the media with young children, what is it that we’re not doing with them?"
Parents may be tempted by claims that programs such as "BabyFirstTV" teach infants sign language and other skills.
But don't buy into the hype, experts say. "That baby would not be communicating those signs just by watching TV," Syc says.
So are parents being duped? Susan Linn, a psychologist and co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (www.commercial
freechildhood.org), thinks so.
"What the industry’s doing is convincing parents fairly successfully that they need these videos in order to be parents," says Linn.
So who should parents believe? Most proponents of media use for infants have interests in the baby media business. But opponents still don’t have much research to draw from.
For Kimberly Peterson, the choice is easy.
"Sure, sometimes not all the housework gets done. But I feel like I’m lucky just to be home with him."
This is an updated version of a story that orginally ran in Chicago Parent.