It can be confusing for many parents whether the drawbacks of watching TV for toddlers outweigh the benefits since many television shows aim exclusively at entertaining the little ones.
Although some shows are educational for toddlers, it may be inappropriate for them to be glued to the television and prefer it over playtime. Further, some toddlers may exhibit an unhealthy spike in their interest in watching TV. Some may also demand to watch TV more frequently and throw tantrums whenever the TV is switched off.
Read this post to learn more about the negative side effects of watching TV on toddlers.
Is TV Always Bad For Your Toddler?
Toddlers watching TV before or at preschool age are at a greater risk for developmental challenges and behavioral problems as compared to toddlers who do not watch TV. Early exposure to TV has also been linked to attention disorders, sleep issues, and adverse effects on academic achievement, social development, and classroom engagement (1). Children who spend more than four hours a day before TV are also more likely to experience obesity (2).
Watching TV has always been considered harmful, especially at a very young age or for your toddler. While almost all child experts are unanimous about their views on the harmful effects of TV, some also think that TV can have some good effects too. Here is a look at both the bad and the good of watching TV that can affect your toddler.
10 DangersÂ Of Watching TVÂ For Toddlers
Here are ten effects of TV on toddlers that can affect adversely:
1. It Can Permanently Damage The Brain Structure Of Your Toddler:
According to research, watching too much TV can permanently change your toddler’s brain structure. 
- If your toddler spends too much time watching TV, he will have a higher amount of gray matter near his frontopolar cortex. It is the area that is located at the front part of your toddler’s frontal lobe. Such a condition can mean your toddler may have difficulty in his verbal intelligence.
- While your toddler watches TV, he may experience a lot of educational content. However, the pace of knowledge that your toddler gets from watching TV does not always vary or increase as per your toddler’s mental capabilities. It means your toddler may have a damaging effect on his cognitive functions(3).
2. There Are No Real Educational Benefits For Toddlers Under 2 Years:
Till the time your toddler does not reach the age of two years, there is no real educational benefit in watching TV.
- Whatever your toddler watches on TV is pre-programmed and may not always correlate to your toddler’s cognitive abilities (1).
- In fact, your toddler may have a very distorted image of the real world from the education he receives from watching TV. He may also have problems relating to real people if he gets used to watching virtual characters at an early age.
Dr. Sharifa N. Glass, MD, a board-certified pediatrician from Houston, Texas, says, “All high-quality shows available for children ages 18 months and older are not right for your child. To find the best shows, watch how your child interacts to the content. The best shows will elicit verbal responses (i.e., repeating words, singing, asking questions, etc.) or physical activity (i.e., jumping, dancing, etc.) from your child.”
3. It Takes Away Precious Time From Your Toddler:
Getting used to watching TV will mean that your toddler loses a lot of real time that he could use in real situations.
- Being around real people and in real time situations will help your toddler develop his various brain functions.
- When your toddler plays with other children his age and sees real things, he will learn much more than he will learn from watching TV (1).
4. It Numbs Any Initiatives:
When your toddler is constantly exposed to TV, it can numb his thinking abilities and more.
- Certain TV shows may teach your toddler, but they can also dissuade him from taking any initiative himself.
- As the TV shows come with every idea and activity pre-programmed, there is not much scope for your toddler to take an initiative and think or do something.
5. Reading Time Gets Encroached Upon:
The time your toddler spends watching TV takes up time he could spend reading (4).
- Reading is recommended for toddlers from as early as they can hold a book, even earlier if possible. It will help your toddler perform better once he is at school.
- Reading will also help sharpen your toddler’s various cognitive and motor skills. It will encourage him to spend quality time, encourage imagination and improve memory.
6. Too Much TV Can Hamper Speech:
Most speech and language experts warn that being exposed to too much TV noise at home can hamper your toddler’s speech.
- If your toddler is always exposed to background noise from the TV, he will have difficulty in listening to other sounds and words.
7. Learning With A Teacher Becomes Difficult:
If your toddler gets used to watching educational shows on TV, it can clash with the way he learns from a real teacher.
- The shows your toddler watches on TV are always fast-paced and filled with animation. Once your toddler gets used to learning through these shows, he will find it difficult to concentrate on regular teaching techniques in the classroom.
- It can also become difficult for your toddler to pay any attention to studying or learning at home.
8. Attracted Towards Negative Influences:
TV viewing has always been criticized for the negative impact it has on toddlers and children.
- Even though you regulate what your toddler watches, commercials or content that is age inappropriate can always come up in between shows.
- TV shows will not always match the sensitivities or values you may want your toddler to learn. For instance, you may not want your toddler to eat packaged foods but the TV shows or commercials may encourage so (6).
9. It Can Make Your Toddler Obese:
Watching TV from an early age can adversely affect your toddler’s weight.
- Toddlers who watch too much TV will start facing weight issues from an early age. In most cases, your toddler may turn out to be highly overweight, even obese.
- Watching TV will take away play time from your toddler and reduce his exercise or physical activity time (6).
10. Increases Blood Pressure:
If your toddler is exposed to TV viewing, it can harm his blood pressure by increasing the levels.
- According to a study, watching too much TV between the ages of 2 till 10 years of age can put your toddler at a 30% higher risk of blood pressure.
- Combined with lesser physical activity, it can further increase the risk factor by 50%.
Introducing TV time to children before the age of preschool can have serious impacts on your child’s health. However, monitored and limited screen exposure is said to be safe. Many parents use TV as a babysitter or as a distraction. This pattern can cause adverse effects in the longer run. One-on-one interaction with parents, reading books, singing rhymes and poems, etc., has many benefits and can be included in their everyday routine. Also, encourage your toddler to watch educational shows during their screen time.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How much screen time is recommended for a two-year-old?
As per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations, preschoolers can be allowed around one hour of educational programs along with a parent or caregiver (2).
2. Why do toddlers always want to watch TV?
Your toddler might be glued to the screen due to a lack of adult attention, interest in certain shows, or an enjoyable TV viewing experience.
3. Can too much TV cause speech delay in toddlers?
A few studies have shown that toddlers exposed to more than recommended duration of screen time might have speech and language delays (5).
4. At what age should toddlers start watching TV?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children watch TV only after 18 months. Parents must introduce 18-month-olds to high-quality educational digital content only.
5. Can too much TV cause autism in children?
Research notes that children who view TV for more than three hours a day might be affected by short attention spans, language delay, and hyperactivity. These symptoms may correlate with autism spectrum disorder (7). However, more research is needed to establish a definitive link between excessive TV watching and autism.
6. What are the symptoms of too much screen time for children?
Too much screen time could interfere with the child’s daily activities. This withdrawal from daily life could be one of the symptoms of TV addiction. Other symptoms might include decreased motivation, frustration when withdrawn from TV, and lack of control over the TV time limits (8).
7. How do I reduce my toddler’s screen time?
The first step toward reducing screen time is to identify what the child is addicted to on the TV or a device with a screen. Then, reduce the screen time slowly. Introduce them to new hobbies and curate their interest in interesting areas. Set an example by reducing your TV time as well. If needed, seek the help of a therapist.
8. What can children do instead of watching TV?
Dr. Glass recommends these activities:
- Toy scavenger hunt: Draw a map of your home and hide items in locations on the map for children to find.
- Photo scavenger hunt: Make a list of items, shapes, or colors that children need to find and take a picture of.
- Math spoons: Write out a page of simple math problems and have young children solve them by counting out spoons.
- Puzzles: Provide age-appropriate puzzles for children to complete. Children as young as two years will enjoy puzzles.”
- Toddlers who watch television before or during preschool are more likely to have developmental problems.
- Too much television can permanently alter your toddler’s brain structure and numb their thinking and cognitive abilities.
- Loud TV noises at home might also hinder your toddler’s communication ability.
- Prolonged TV exposure increases blood pressure risk in toddlers by 30-50%.
- Infants Toddlers and Television.
- How Media Use Can Affect Kids.
- Hikaru Takeuchi et al.; (2015); The impact of television viewing on brain structures: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.
- Television: Reducing the Negative Impact.
- Tots toddlers and TV: The potential harm.
- Kamaruzaman Jusoff and Nurul Nadiah Sahimi; (2009); Television and Media Literacy in Young Children: Issues and Effects in Early Childhood.
- Donna Hermawati et al; Early electronic screen exposure and autistic-like symptoms.
- Kids and screen time: Signs your child might be addicted.
- Screen time and children