In the daily chaos of parenting, letting our children watch a little TV now and then can be a godsend in keeping them distracted.
But is this a good idea when they are only babies, and could they be sitting too close to the screen?
How far should baby be from TV? Babies and young children need to be between 8 and 10 feet away from the TV screen to reduce eye strain and discomfort. The ideal distance from the TV will depend on the screen size. It’s also important that the television is positioned close to their eye level or lower to prevent neck strain.
More concerning than how close your baby may be in front of the television screen is the long-term impact that TV can have on your baby’s brain and cognitive development.
Keep reading to find out how TV can affect your little one, recommended screen time for babies, and ways to limit or avoid screen time altogether.
Babies and TV – What Parents Need To Know
TV viewing is a daily staple in most homes, so it’s hard to be mindful of how much your little one could be consuming too, whether intentionally or as background noise.
To understand a little more about TV’s relationship with your child, let’s look at the impact it can have on newborns and young babies.
Effect of TV on Babies
The biggest milestones in the development of your baby’s brain occur before they reach 2 years old, so it’s thought that too much early screen time can rob them of the chance to learn and fully explore their immediate surroundings.
Here’s how TV can affect your baby:
Impacts Brain Development and Sleep
While few studies have been done in regard to infants and screen time, studies on the effects of TV on preschool children can give a glimpse into the effects of early TV viewing on their brains.
A 2019 study cited by Healthline found that children aged 3-5 who viewed screens more than 1 hour per day had:
“lower measures of microstructural organization and myelination of brain white matter tracts that support language and emergent literacy skills and corresponding cognitive assessments.”
The AAP has also warned that increased exposure to screen media in early childhood has been linked to shorter sleep durations compared to infants with no screen exposure.
Can Inhibit Learning
Author and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Dr. David L. Hill likens video entertainment like television to “mental junk food” in the sense that a baby’s brain is only learning from what he/she experiences from watching the screen.
He also shares:
“Normally a parent speaks about 940 words per hour when a toddler is around. With the television on, that number falls by 770! Fewer words mean less learning.”
Children are hard-wired to learn from other people and pick up language cues from parents or caregivers, but TV interrupts this wonderfully complex and beneficial exchange.
Results in Shorter Attention Spans
Because TV is constantly changing its picture, movement, and colors in order to keep you entertained, your baby never needs to focus on one constant for an extended period, which is likely to result in difficulties with attention and patience as they grow.
Dulls Their Interaction With Their World
Perhaps the saddest consequence of TV-watching in your growing baby is that too much of it can replace valuable real-life interactions with people’s voices and faces and the feel and behavior of objects in their hands.
Dr. Hill notes that your baby learns more from banging pots and pans on the floor than watching television since they will at least make eye contact with you every now and again!
Watching TV With Newborn in the Room
A newborn baby is more or less always with you, so avoiding TV can be hard and may not be something you wish to do during cluster feeds, for example, when you need to stay awake!
However, a TV being on in the same room isn’t the same as your little one actively watching it.
It’s perfectly harmless if the colors and movement on the screen catch their attention for a while, but it will not offer any benefit besides distraction when you need it as your newborn’s brain is incapable of forming any meaning or real-world learning from what they see.
Babies Watching TV at 3 Months
As it takes around 18 months for a baby’s brain to develop to the point that they can equate certain symbols and images on the screen with their real-world equivalents, watching TV at 3 months old will offer little mental nourishment.
If your little one is fond of the box at this age, try to keep them busy with toys and activities in front of the TV so they come to see that TV is not the only entertainment habit to fall back on.
Babies and TV in the Background
According to the AAP, even having the TV on in the background without anyone viewing it is enough to delay your child’s language development.
The constant drone of the television is distracting, interrupts thought processes, and takes attention away from where it should be — learning with you!
If nobody is watching the TV, do your family a favor, and simply turn it off.
Viewing Distance From TV
A general rule of thumb from eye care specialists is that you should sit about 8 to 10 feet away from the television screen (you can consult the guide on the correct viewing distances for your TV size here).
The position of your TV screen can also impact eye health as screens above eye level tend to cause greater eye and neck strain.
Screen Time for Babies Under 2
The official guidelines by the AAP recommend that children aged 18 to 24 months should have limited screen time, advising a zero screen time rule for babies under 18 months and no more than 1 hour per day after 2 years.
If these guidelines have you a little panicked about your little one’s screen time, even the experts point out that some screen time here and there is unlikely to do real harm.
How To Avoid Screen Time for Babies
Try to fit more playtime and bonding into your baby’s day where possible with things like…
- Reading picture books together
- Placing your baby in an activity chair/center
- Set up a play mat with toys and building blocks
- Play hide-and-seek with their stuffed toys
- Go outdoors to explore new textures such as grass and ask your little one to find animals
- Try baby-wearing if your child doesn’t like to be left alone
You can also set a good example by switching off screens when not in use and keep devices off during meals.
If screen-watching can’t be avoided, try to sit with them when they watch something and try to look into educational TV shows or YouTube videos they could watch.
Are Screens Bad for Babies’ Eyes?
Excess screen time may lead to eye strain in babies and young children as their eyes are still developing. Too much screen time may also disrupt sleep cycles.
Excessive exposure to blue light from electronic screens is also thought to cause stress to the retina, which could lead to future degeneration.
Can Babies Watch TV at 2 Months?
AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines suggest that TV is best introduced after 18 months.
At 2 months old, it is far healthier for your child’s well-being and development to allow them to interact with their immediate environment in the form of music, colorful objects, and playtime with you.
In summary, babies need to be at least 8-10 feet away from the TV screen to ward off eye strain.
In the short term, a small amount of screen time here and there won’t cause your baby any harm, but the real danger is how reliant they may come to be upon TV for learning about their world.
The first 2 years of your baby’s life are a crucial time for their brain development, so it’s important to encourage real-world learning with toys, activities, and communication with you.
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.