Fussy infants and toddlers watch more TV
April 14th, 2014
09:51 AM ET

Fussy infants and toddlers watch more TV

Does your baby have difficulty calming him or herself? Falling and staying asleep? It can be stressful, especially for new parents. But once again, researchers are recommending that parents avoid plopping them down in front of the television.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, fussy babies and toddlers tend to watch more TV and videos than infants with no issues or mild issues. And that can lead to problems down the road.

"We found that babies and toddlers whose mothers rated them as having self-regulation problems – meaning, problems with calming down, soothing themselves, settling down to sleep, or waiting for food or toys – watched more TV and videos when they were age 2," said study author Dr. Jenny Radskey, who works in the division of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.

"Infants with self-regulation problems watched, on average, about 9 minutes more media per day than other infants. This may seem small, but screen-time habits are established in these early years."

"Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2," says the American Academy of Pediatrics because they say "a child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens."
Radskey says the infants and toddlers who had the fussiest behavior were 40% more likely to exceed those  AAP guidelines. This study also found that 42% of 2 years-olds exceeded those guidelines.

What's not clear, according to Radskey, is whether they watched more TV because they were fussy and their parents put them in front of the TV as a distraction, or if the heavy TV use contributed to their self-regulation problems. But Radskey says one thing is clear: "Several studies show that too much screen time before age 2 or 3 is associated with language and learning delays, ADHD, and difficulties in school – probably because the screen time replaced early learning activities. And also probably because early media habits predict later media habits."

Infants get very little from watching TV, Radskey says, and it could be overstimulating them, so viewing time should be minimal.

"A little bit of calm, educational and age-appropriate media is probably fine in this age group, and is probably beneficial if it leads to less-stressed parents who can get some things done in the meantime," she said. "But the primary way that infants and toddlers learn is through play with their caregivers and exploring environment, not looking at 2-dimensional images."

The researchers looked at data from nearly 7,500 children born in 2001 who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. At 9 months and again at 2 years old, parents filled out the Infant Toddler Symptom Checklist, a scale that looks at self-regulation. The checklist identifies infants and toddlers who are fussy, and have problems with sleep, eating and regulating mood and behavior. They found that at age 2, these children watched about 2.3 hours of TV or video a day.

"Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2," the AAP website says. "A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens."

Dr. Penny Glass, director of child development programs at Children's National Health System in Washington, believes at this age watching TV and videos contributes to behavior problems.

"There's no practice of conversational skills when a child is watching a program aimed at and designed to capture their attention in a hypnotic kind of way," she said. "It's scary to think that you have to present preschoolers information in the form of video in order for them to be interested enough to learn from it. They should be interacting with each other, developing social relationships.

"You do not develop socially if your primary interest is watching TV. It's a skill developed with practice."

Glass has this advice for parents with a toddler who has problems self-regulating: "Get help early on. Because using TV as an answer is not going to solve the problem; they are more likely to end up with a bigger problem."

Dr. Mary Pipan, a behavioral pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) who specializes in child development, has a more moderate approach.

"TV that is watched with a parent that is developmentally appropriate for a child can be a positive experience for both the parent and the child," she said. "It's a content question and an amount question. And the bottom line is it's not so much what appropriate TV does to children, it's what it takes them away from: socializing and physically active play."

Radesky suggests staying away from loud, jarring and overstimulating shows, and sticking to age appropriate content for just a brief period each day. And if it helps decrease parental stress levels along the way....

"The most important thing is for parents to take care of themselves," she said. "So if a little bit of calm, age-appropriate screen time helps parents stay sane, and the screen time is balanced with lots of other activities, I think that is OK. But it's also important to learn how to read our fussy kids, and not just opt for an easy way to make the fussing stop."

She says responding to a fussy child depends on their age, stage of development, and why they are fussing. "Do they just need some hugs and feel like they're your center of attention? Do they want to play or dance or read together? Do they want to be involved in what you're doing? Are they frustrated with something they need your help with? Some of these fussing moments are actually good teaching moments."

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Silver Fang

    Reblogged this on Wolf Howls.

    April 14, 2014 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jared Taylor

    Grammatical error in the first sentence. Please correct.

    April 14, 2014 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rebob

      If this was a news article, you'd have a point, but this is CNN.

      April 14, 2014 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
  3. Ian

    Too long of an article...going to go watch some TV.

    April 14, 2014 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. elsa richards

    Helpful tips for young parents!

    April 14, 2014 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. cali girl

    Add the old I Pad to the television list.

    April 14, 2014 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rlj

    I think a little TV is ok for 2 and above – as long as they don't watch alone – parents can interact with kids and point things out to them and let them communicate about what they see – there are so many wonderful programs for kids on PBS for instance.

    April 14, 2014 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fondue

      Yes, but isn't PBS the station that inflicts that whiny little Caillou on parents?

      April 14, 2014 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
  7. Jan

    I have two children. One was an "easy baby" and one a rather "fussy baby." I used TV to entertain & distract the fussy one more than the easy one (though mostly when she was over 2). Later, the "easy baby" became the one who spent many more hours of screen time (computer games). Both are now adults and watch very little TV. The "fussy baby" has no interest in spending more screen time than needed and the "easy baby" enjoys a bit of screen time gaming but much less than when he was growing up. I'd be hard pressed to see fussiness as being caused by too much screen time except in extreme cases or where screen time was preempting needed social & physical time.

    April 14, 2014 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Two year old watching TV

    I am surprised that most parents would let their two year watch any TV. My main objection today is about 1/2 of TV time seems to be commercials. The last thing that most two years old need is such an early indoctrination about buying things. Of course, I am old school and remember when commercials were limited to about 10 minutes in an hour.

    "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming." see http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html

    April 14, 2014 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kristen

      Most channels that cater to 2 year olds and small children do not have commercials during the shows. And the commercials that are on in between the shows are geared towards the parents and heavily focus on other shows coming up on the channel. They don't hock products like older kids networks like The Hub, Nick, Disney, etc. Even the Jr. versions of those channels cut out commercials during shows and reduce the amount of kid-focused product.

      My daughter has watched TV from the time she was an infant. She's learned innumerable things from shows she's watched and is a perfectly happy, highly intelligent, well-rounded child at the age of 6. TV did nothing negative to impact her learning ability (she's always been advanced) or attention span (she's spent hours focused on activities from toddler, on).

      April 14, 2014 at 23:17 | Report abuse |
  9. Mom of 3 year old

    My 3 year never watched any TV until recently, and now he only watches 1-2 episodes of Sesame Street a day. I did EVERYTHING the experts say to promote learning and speech development in him, and still, he was delayed. My sil lets her 3 year old and 18 month old watch practically unlimited TV and uses it as a babysitter, and both her children talked early.
    I watched a lot of TV as a kid myself, and I was also a very early talker, and way ahead in language and reading.
    My point is, you can do all the "right" things, and your child can still have delays.

    April 14, 2014 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jen

    Interesting article, but you really need to have someone copy edit it. Lots of errors.

    April 15, 2014 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mom

    None ever watched TV before age 2. We have 6 little kids. None were fussy babies.
    Before age 2 a kid (mine at least) would not even look at the TV at all if it was one. They are too little to be bothered by it.
    We tired to make sure it was not on when they were up, so only kids over 2 saw it (limited).
    I am worried about it making kids fat. Then once they are age 2.5, we do full-day preschool and that keep them busy and away from TV.

    April 15, 2014 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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  18. Beth Bishop

    Infants and toddlers with “self-regulation difficulties”—that is, “problems with self-soothing, sleep, emotional regulation, and attention”—view more media at two years of age than kids who have these issues less frequently, according to a new report released Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
    read more https://babyishcare.com/newborn-baby-care-tips-first-time-parents/

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    Although parents believe in the educational value of TV, DVDs and videos, just 32 percent of parents always watched with their children. Parents also had an inflated idea of how much of these media other children were watching and believed that their children viewed less than the average amount. The study indicated that the perceived average viewing for other families is 73 percent higher than the actual average.

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