The Electronic Pacifier: No TV under two!

brainyToday I got a firsthand glimpse of the pacifier wars. And I’m not talking about “binky vs. blankie-n-thumb”…

There’s an all out battle for parent’s mindshare as consumer advocates like Dr. Susan Linn, co-founder of CCFC, face off with the electronic baby media empire, that’s racking up well over a billion dollars in sales of Brainy Baby, Baby Einstein and Sesame Beginnings DVDs.

C’mon. You know the ones. The whimsically colorful infant videos that babies aren’t even supposed to be watching to begin with, since The American Academy of Pediatrics “does NOT recommend television for children under age 2.”

Are media-saturated parents thumbing their nose at the AAP guidelines? Or just blissfully unaware of them?

Dr. Linn, hosting the ‘Consuming Kids’ Marketing Summit in Boston today, said parents are NOT purposely dissing the docs…It’s just that only 6% of American parents are even AWARE of the guidelines, & 7% are under the impression babies should only watch ‘educational’ videos!

Where are parents getting these mixed messages? Isn’t it common sense that these chubby cheeked innocents shouldn’t need weaned from the tube before they’re even two?

Guess not…Kaiser Family Foundation reports a whopping 61% of babies ONE & younger are watching 1:20 hours of screen media a day.

What’s up with parents? Some are lured by the ‘smart baby’ appeal, others are impressed with pediatrician pull quotes or trusted brand logos on the packaging…some simply buy into the prospect of giving new parents an ounce of calm and a soothing shower. Sometimes the video’s just a quick pick from the baby registry.

As understanding as that may be, ‘under two’ is prime real estate on the frontal lobe landscape and tons of research studies hint at the harm and elude to dangerous brainwave data from early TV exposure.

And yet…If you’re a harried caregiver looking for an easy out, which ‘pediatric’ sound bite are you going to tune out?

The AAP‘s ‘NO TV UNDER TWO’? Or the very closely named American Pediatrics Society President, Edward McCabe who was quoted as saying, “Let’s help parents find the right context, to help them have TV for their kids that can help the kids learn and help the parents interact with their kids.”

Hmn. Add to that a mish-mash of trusted parent advocacy orgs like Zero to Three plopping their logo on a product like Sesame Beginnings and you’ve got a sealed deal of endorsement that confuses the heck outta parents who want the best for their kids.

It’s not hard to sell a zone out enabler for the over-stressed set who’d like to turn on the telly and absolve themselves of ‘duty’ for awhile.

When trusted orgs lend their credibility to a corporate venture without sufficient medical data and science, it smacks of a short-sighted sellout of the worst kind.

Going against pediatric guidelines represents “give-up-itis” in its most obvious form, watering down standards to perpetuate the cycle of media mania, and ensuring parents will cluelessly follow like lemmings off the cliff figuring it ‘all must be okay’ now that there’s any kind of recognized name as a ‘stamp of approval’ there.

Those having the power to lead and influence (MDs, are you listening?) should exercise impeccable responsibility and restraint with their message, beholden to the utmost standards of knowing right from wrong.

Seems they’ve already broken that rule by sending parents on a precision march to mediocrity, parading the pablum of ‘what’s easiest’ rather than what’s healthiest for these children.

It’s ‘easier’ to tear open a plastic wrapped microwavable piece of processed ‘food product’ and call it ‘lunch’ or snag a foil pouch of on-the-go eat’ems & slam it en route to preschool too. But then…oh, yeah, that’s right. Never mind. We’ve already culturally embedded that precedent. sigh.

Judging by my own peers, there’s excessive encouragement to plop kids in front of a screen as a babysitter already. We need the pediatric orgs to do their part by at least balancing the equation with logic and common sense to make it the exception rather than the rule.

Besides, the growing evidence that screen media for babies may be harmful is only beginning to surface.

As informal research begins to reveal the neurological & behavioral impact of multi-channel media upon the ‘net generation,’ why not err on the safe side?

Why not channel our energy into redirecting parents appropriately, instead of turning toddlers into ‘vidiots’ at the coo & drooling stage!? Besides, that’s where they’ll end up as kids & adults w/a steady diet of same…

We’re not only allowing the branding of babies’ brains, but encouraging media devotion early on. Toss in the launch of Babyfirst TV on DirecTV this past spring, and you’ve got a womb to tomb ideology and dependence that subverts the encouragement of creative play.

Mount Sinai pediatrician Dr. Danielle Laraque argues in this article that watching TV is just too passive. “We know that children learn best through personal interaction,” she says, “both their cognitive and social and emotional health.”

As Dr. Linn said today, “We’re removing the fundamental capacity to create and play; yet play is the foundation of learning and critical thinking. When we allow screen use to proliferate, we deprive babies of these skills early on, removing their opportunity to acquire meaning and understanding for living in context.”

She also mentioned a children’s hospital using TV screens mere inches from babies without regard for the damage and data not yet gleaned from the research pros, and cited case after case of less interactive play linked with more TV viewing.

Want more evidence?

Here’s an edit of her fact sheet:

1.) TV viewing for babies and toddlers can be habituating.

2.) Research suggests TV viewing for our youngest children is associated negatively with cognitive development, language development, and regular sleep patterns.

3.) The more time babies spend viewing TV the less time they spend interacting with parents or engaging in creative play.

4.) TV time for babies and toddlers may be a factor in developing attention problems and score lower on IQ and academic tests in grade school.
5.) TV viewing is correlated with obesity.

6.) For children under 3, watching TV is linked to an increase in bullying behavior.

7.) A recent study suggests that TV viewing may be a factor in autism.

8.) There is no evidence that these, or any other video for babies, have any educational value.

Source: Dr. Susan Linn’s Fact Sheet “Baby Einstein? Baby Exploitation”

It’s disturbing to think that companies would blindly promote baby’s exposure to screen time, without conclusive info in hand of quantitative & qualitative damage or safety.

Downright chilling; like cold, hard, cash…and faaaaaaaaar from pacifying.



  1. An excellent commentary, Ms.Jussel,with special thanks for Dr.Linn’s opinions. I have argued with my friends on this very subject and now have some legitimate come-backs to offer when they maintain that these so-called educational programs & videos are so “valuable” today when many of us are unable to employ nannies or skilled baby-sitters. Some friends are even convinced this is miraculous for new mothers who are newcomers to the US; they think the babies can learn English quicker. This may be partly true, but I think the OTHER things they learn (the loud,shrill voices, sassy,slangy talk,
    the need to be entertained & just watch instead of participating and experimenting) will be more harmful than helpful in the long run.

  2. Everyone I know that utilizes TV with their babies and toddlers does it sparingly. Many parents with Baby Einstein videos in the home use it as an alternate activity (so that mommy can take a shower, pay bills, have 10 minutes to think without as much interruption). All the other hours of the day they are interacting and tending committedly to their bundle of joy.
    The Amer. Academy of Pediatrics also recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months and then continuing breastfeeding up to age 2. Shall we bring down judgement on those who choose to feed there child otherwise?
    This “alarmist” response to every little issue is really irritating and not very persuasive.

  3. Excellent point on the AAP breastfeeding analogy, and frankly, we’re arguing the same side of the coin.

    I totally agree with you that the parents I know use baby media for mental health respites & shower time.

    My point is the Zero to Three sanctioning and logo tie-in creates an ‘insta-brand’ to OTHER less-dilligent (sitters, careproviders, consumers etc.) who deem it’s educational/OK to leave baby boob-tubing much longer than ‘sparingly.’

    THAT’s my concern with ANY of the ‘official’ sanctioning (e.g. AHA/heart smart cereals/diabetes or cancer foundations, etc.) The minute the pull quote or logo plops onto a box as a testimonial or ‘official logo’ people slide further…

    It’s like that ‘one hour of screen time’ media recommendation that everyone knows slides to two in a snap w/kids…then toss in the computer or a movie, cartoon wkends, & it’s 3,4,& 5 hours in some of the media logs I’m getting from our counter-marketing student intake!

  4. Is there potential for offset. I agree that the ill advised use of video babysitters is scary practice, but I wonder about the panacea that a “no TV” baby will be perfect, or even better off. Does it not matter what the video time is supplanted by or supplimented with?

    I’ll admit that my 7 mo old gets a pretty healthy does of CNN in the morning through feeding time, then as I get ready for work. Is that TV exposure different than “baby-video?” and isn’t what I do the rest of the day of great importance? I would contend that I believe I have a better approach to development than some because I do actively engage our baby for conisderable periods morning and evening, and he has no tv exposrue at daycare. So, isn’t that balance better than perhap the kid who sees no TV but also gets no human interaction? I’m not arguing with the facts of your article just wary of our tendancies to take an all or nothing approach and follow the experts without consideration for our own personnal situations.

  5. Agree it can ALL be mitigated with COMMON SENSE…So yes, in short, there is HUGE ‘potential for offset’ and I’m sure in your scenario your hands-on engagement far outweighs any ‘snag a shower’ media time…

    For the record I’d be VERY wary of news violence/CNN as awareness begins to build; see the and APA studies on exposure to current events/news realism stress/anxiety, etc. so I do think there’s a difference in type of ambient media.

    Clearly, as a parent, I’m not a ‘just say no TV’ stickler, as you can see by my comments above…(first of all, it doesn’t work for beans, I limited media in preschool years completely only to have created a forbidden fruit ‘media monstah’ who defaults to TV on preference if given the opp)BUT…

    My argument is this: Zero to Three should NOT have diluted their credibility by sanctioning same, using their logo branding tie-in as “the masses” interpret same as a free pass to plop junior in front of the TV for far longer than any baby video.

    Just look at the grocery store phenom…the minute someone sees a ‘heart healthy’ tie-in they toss it in the cart without reading ingredients further. Big mistake, as you can see by the irony of some of the partner orgs doing the brandwashing. (click on our childhood obesity section)

    Likewise, an APA or medical logo/Zero to Three trusted resource becomes a ‘must be ok’ mindset, which can result in copious quantities of media screen time, sliding from the ‘one hour a day’ to ‘two hours a day’ (already the ‘new’ hedge bet) which will no doubt fudge to WAY beyond as we see in the studies…

    Balance, centrist logic, moderation, common sense…that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it! 😉

  6. Amy, I completely agree with you on the endorsement issue, it is highly misleading and doesn’t adequately inform parents.

    I have re-thought the hard news exposure as well. Part of me wants to think it’s okay, because it’s just a reflection of reality. But I realize that for an older child (like my 5 yo, there is a lack of context unless I’m actively watching, discussing and explaining. For a younger child there simply is no way of providing and balancing context. So, I think I will be looking for opportunities to replace news with music or even quite time with some toys in the pack and play.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

  7. Children Now has a great round-up of links and best practices for discussing news media with kids…

    From terrorism to disaster relief, it’s important that we’re able to put it in context for them, otherwise it looks like an awfully scary world out there (I’d pull the covers up over my head w/all that anxiety for sure!)

    As your 5 year old enters school s/he will be fed ‘mini-current events’ snippets from various ‘kid-versions’ of news mags (Time, Newsweek, etc.) and my only heads-up to add there is they can be chock full of integrated advertising…

    One time I found “Toyota’s Road to Reading” (move your minivan square to square for homework kinda thing) embedded, mixing ‘news’ with ‘classroom’ assignments and ADS.

    I was pretty amazed to realize that ads & marketing have become such ambient noise even the TEACHERS didn’t notice them…they just thought they were delivering “the news” to kids.

    Sigh. On our sidebar you can find some good media literacy sites w/FAQs & best practices on media awareness/current events, like etc.

    And Ray, thank YOU for the thoughtful discussion…it’s nice to have such a respectful exchange of ideas!

  8. Pacifier clip is very important for your baby since it can prevent SIDS

  9. Samantha says

    Thanks for sharing – couldn’t agree more on avoiding TV. We use it sparingly and will hold an ABSOLUTELY NO TV at the table. Doesn’t matter if we are out or not. Keep up the mission, it’s a great one. Again, thank you for sharing!

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