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The imperfect mother - is a lil TV viewing really that BAD?

I was reading today about how TV is "toxic" for under 2's, and how shock horror "Baby Einstein" DVDs don't turn your child into a genius.
"For every 1 hour of television viewed per day by preschoolers, their likelihood of developing concentration problems and other attention-deficit ‘disorders’ by the age of 7, increases by 10%" 
The page screamed...

I decided to hunt down said study:
A total of 1278 children had data from age “1” (mean: 1.8 years; SD: 0.6), and 1345 had data from age “3” (mean: 3.8 years; SD: 0.6). Children watched an average of 2.2 hours (SD: 2.91) of television per day at age 1 and 3.6 hours (SD: 2.94) per week at age 3.
Ten percent of children for whom data were available at ages 1 and 3 had attentional problems on the basis of our definition derived from the BPI.
I'm no statistician but looking at the graphs, the average TV watched was a couple of hours - but a not insignificant proportion of infants watched anything from 4-16 hours!  The researchers found 10% had attentional problems (note NOT clinically diagnosed ADHD) and if this is directly linked to amount of viewing (as the authors found) those who displayed attentional problems must have watched an awful lot of TV if 2 hours per day was the average at a year old?

The authors also go on to say:
We cannot draw causal inferences from these associations. It could be that attentional problems lead to television viewing rather than vice versa. However, to mitigate this limitation, we exploited the longitudinality of the data set and focused on television viewing at 1 and 3 years of age, well before the age at which most experts believe that ADHD symptoms are manifest.32,39
It is also possible that there are characteristics associated with parents who allow their children to watch excessive amounts of television that accounts for the relationship between television viewing and attentional problems. For example, parents who were distracted, neglectful, or otherwise preoccupied might have allowed their children to watch excessive amounts of television in addition to having created a household environment that promoted the development of attentional problems.
Finally, we had no data on the content of the television being viewed. Some research indicates that educational television (eg, Sesame Street) may in fact promote attention and reading among school-aged children.24 Others have disagreed and posited that even such programming can be detrimental.40 If exposure to certain kinds of programming is beneficial, even at a very young age, then our results represent conservative estimates of the risks of television as a medium in general because some proportion of the programming may have moderated the detrimental aspects of others and deviated the results toward the null. However, more research is needed on the effects of varying content of television, particularly for children who are preschool age.

Furthermore it must be mightily difficult to quantify parenting - if a parent does "cry it out", also linked with behavioural issues - but doesn't have TV on, is the baby at less or more risk than a co-sleeping infants who watches half an hour?

Why am I rambling on about TV viewing - am I suggesting you all go flick the box on and plop your darlings there for the rest of the day.  Of course not.

The trouble is that how on earth are mothers supposed to do everything?  Gone are the days of communities, where there was always an older sibling, sister, aunt or mother to help out - instead many families are nuclear, one or both parents out for most of the day working, or one at work whilst the other takes care of the baby.

Lob a "high needs" infant into that, older siblings - breastfeeding, cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking healthy meals and of course "quality time" and can we really blame mothers for needing the help of that flashing babysitter every once in a while?

Even if this isn't the case - what happens if you have more than one child?  Maybe you have a four year old who wants to watch say Sesame Street, you as a parent want to also watch and interact with the older child.  Do you blindfold and pop ear muffs on the baby?  Sling them on your back so they can't see?

My eldest was a glue baby, I hadn't heard of good slings (and who even knows whether she would have gone in one anyway) she was very "high needs" and quite often by late afternoon I would realise I was starving, and I hadn't even been able to put her down long enough to get something to eat.  It wasn't that I was a purist against baby swings or bouncers - she simply only tolerated them for a few minutes.   Fast forward a few months to her starting solids and I had various options:

1.  Leave her to scream whilst I prepared her some decent home cooked food
2.  Attempt to hold her and cook, not good with a wriggly infant.
3.  Feed her something quick - food from a jar or packet
4.  Find something to keep her busy for 10- 15-20 mins (depending on the day and her mood!) that would engage her enough she would be happy with me in the adjoining kitchen.

Given it usually ended up on the floor, perhaps I should have rethought!  Anyway....

I didn't really go for the flashing, boinging, singing LOUD programmes that generally are kids TV and so I played, wait for it, shock horror a Baby Einstein DVD! (ok shoot me now)  With number two I had no hesitation in pulling it back out if required - which was generally less often given he was a far more chilled out baby generally, usually loved his sling; and of course when the eldest was at home she was far more entertaining than any flashing box.

I'm sure by now some (perhaps those who have discovered slings, or have a baby who actually naps somewhere else other than on you, or are generally a relaxed temperament) feel I'm trying to justify my own Baby Einstein secret - or so a friend who in response proudly told me she has no TV (yet downloads episodes to her PC?!?) suggested.  I didn't dare point out that in reality I thought Baby Einstein was probably the least of my early parenting concerns, I'm personally far more worried about the hours of "pick up put down" that followed reading the Baby Whisperer - but hey that's one for another day....

PS - if you're not quite ready to toss the television, Dr. Dimitri Christakis at Seattle Children's Hospital (often quoted for their research into the effects of TV viewing on children)  suggests parents can manipulate viewing to turn it into a useful tool? click here to watch his presentation....


  1. Love this blog! My baby number 2 is extremely high needs i wear most of the day and just like you find i have no time to cook or even go to the toilet! I know other mums use a bit of telly for some quiet time for their children but they don't like to admit its a must at times to get things done!

  2. I would love to toss the TV but my other half wouldn't let me do it and I suspect that when our new wee one arrives I may be having it on a little too long while we settle into things. We did have a long period where we had no TV but we did watch some things online. When we did buy another TV it was without a subscription package which cut down on some of the junk TV we watched.

    I tend to record the programmes that I want my son and myself to watch while my other half will see what is on and end up watching something for the sake of it. I suppose the difference with watching online is that you choose the exact programmes you want to watch and don't get caught up with all the tat in between. There's no turning on the idiot box to see what's on.

  3. We don't own a TV and in the near 3 years we've been married haven't owned one. In the first year of marriage we didn't even have the Internet. It was good because I read more books, spoke to a lot more friends but there were many downsides, too.

    I'd say if you can't unplug completely then just have one day a week where you watch no TV at all - my parents started doing this when I was 9 and still sometimes do it now (I'm 25.) In my own family I felt that having a TV was costly and unessential. We're selective about what we watch and what we let our son watch.

  4. we got rid of the tv and it is EASIER to get things done with my 2 year old around. Because he has learned to entertain himself and do what a 2 year old is supposed to do. Instead of the emotional roll-a-coaster after sitting in front of the tube, we are blessed with a more happy and calm child. Simplicity Parenting is a great book that really helped us see that our "high" needs child was just overwhelmed and tv is a major part of that. No, you probably can't do everything, but don't shortchange your child, shortchange other places.

  5. Interestingly when my children were two, they could also entertain themselves. My "high needs infant" wasn't overwhelmed from TV overload or anything else except lack of sleep.

    Short changing the child? Please! Best cling on tight to that high horse - as someone who has worked her butt off to parent differently than expected, and who spent the best part of two years not sleeping - I actually find that comment incredibly offensive.

  6. I have a 'glue baby' too (although now she's 6 months it's getting easier), but back when I was desperate, not even the bloody TV worked!

  7. So glad to hear others share my "guilty secret" although I expect you'd be horrified the reality of just how much the "idiot box" was employed in the years my tots were teeny. Why oh why are we mothers so hard on each other, and possibly harder on ourselves?? I am one of many many mothers who as you describe parented alone whilst my husband worked long hours, and extended family were unable or unwilling to be involved. I had a small flat, no car or means of transport - have you tried getting a double buggy on a bus lol? In order to bf, co sleep, sling, prepare healthy meals, take care of 2 tiny ones thru bouts of tonsillitis and what have u, I used cbeebies, and disney movies, and baby Einstein omg!! And guess what? I have an incredibly intelligent, book obsessed, happy, attached,out doors playing, beautiful, healthy,hardly-ever- tv-watching- 5 and 6 yr old. And a baby who I will have not a shred of guilt in allowing to watch the odd bit of tv whilst I do what mums have to do!!!! Right, off my soap box. I think you r fab, aa xxxx

  8. My daughter has a slightly unhealthy obsession with Mr Tumble. Which I am extremely grateful for, and extremely happy to feed into :-)

    The delightful Mr Tumble gives me a 10-15 minute window in which I can cook dinner, put the washing on, brush my hair, or...*gasp*...heaven forbid...sit down with a cuppa for 5 minutes. I am a self employed, knackered single mummy and my daughter is a wonderful, bright, advanced little poppet - we cook together, we eat together, we read together, we sing and dance together, we do arts and crafts, we have days I feel absolutely no guilt at occasionally leaving her to be entertained by Mr Tumble (and I totally agree that some tv programmes are educational, we have a couple of Sesame Street dvds and they are great).

    Oh, and for the person who posted about aa 'short changing' her child? Ugh. Just ugh. Judgy mums piss me off. Emotional rollercoaster from Mr Tumble? Moron.

  9. Now I am pregnant my child watches far too much tv :( I put it on sometimes so I can have a doze in the afternoon! Is this really so bad? My child is still breastfed, has never been left to cry, is played with, read to, secure and happy. But, especially now, he watches too much tv. Some days, 2 hours or more. Some, only half an hour. I didn't feel guilty but now am worried i'm 'short changing' him - thanks. If I couldn't have a rest some days i'd be no good to anyone.

  10. Thank you for this post! Your eldest sounds a lot like my little guy. These days (he's just two) he will sometimes leave me alone for a whole five minutes at a time, but if he sees me start on food preparation, the washing up, or any other chore (or, God forbid, trying to eat my own food), he turns back into a limpet. "UP, Mummy! Milk, please!"

    I get particularly annoyed with people who tell me I shouldn't let him watch TV, or that I should use pushchair time for talking (instead of my sanity break with my ipod), without realising the degree of intense input he requires at all other times. CBeebies is a total lifeline for me. Plus, Mr Tumble has taught him more sign language than I managed, and he's learned loads of other stuff too.

  11. We use TV on-line for our 3 yo to watch while I get her little brother to sleep in the day. That way I know she is safe in the room next to me and doesn't pester me or disturb me settling the baby. So she watches about 20m twice a day. As she no longer naps I think it's good for her to just switch off and chill out, so she has a rest ready for a few more hours of intense preschooler living! The nice thing about TV on-line is that it's really controllable - the progs don't just roll on endlessly and you have to actively choose what to watch.

  12. I have the telly on much more than I should. I always would have the telly on for back ground noise, when the kids came along I started putting childrens programmes on as I thought it was more suitable for them to have that on than a lot of the other day time TV thats on. My 3 never just sit glued to it though, they play together with toys, they play alone with toys, they play with me, we make things, we read, some times we switch it off, put a childrens C.D on and dance around. But it does come in handy for times like you say in the blog when you have to cook dinner and they are having an exceptionally clingy day, or when you have to feed the baby and the older child wants to do something that its not possible to do with a baby on your boob, you can say "lets just watch this and by the time its finished baby will be done and we can do what you want" my 3 year old hasnt napped since he was 18 months, but i try to get him to have some rest time other wise he gets over tired and is bouncing off the walls, i try my best to make that quiet time a time to snuggle and read but its not always possible and sometimes a DVD can do the trick of keeping him still for half an hour or an hour. my middle son (the 3 year old) is my "high needs" one, he always has been even before he noticed the box of moving colours in the corner. he needs constant entertainment and some days my brain feels like its been fried with the constant questions LOL i also feel that its one of those "everything in moderation" subjects, like sweets, guess what my kids eat sweets! every friday on the way home from school we stop at the shop and the 3 and 5 year old are allowed to chose one sweet each! my friend was never allowed sweets as a child and as soon as she was old enough she would spend all her dinner money on sweets. i hope that by letting them have a little sweet each week and letting them watch some telly i will avoid them going mad for it when they are old enough to control their own viewing


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