Is your kid watching too much TV? Here are signs to watch out for

By now every parent has gotten the message that their kids watching TV should be limited, but in reality, turning on the tube can be a mom’s best friend for getting things done around the house or having a break. There are educational TV shows about math and other educational topics and we’ve also been told TV viewing can be fine in moderation. But what amount is okay and how much is too much?

Watching TV can impact children in a few different ways and it all depends on multiple factors. For instance, are you spending time with them while they watch? How many hours per day do they spend watching? What shows do they watch? We’ve collected valuable information for you below so you can make an informed decision in coordination with your pediatrician about your child’s television intake.


What age is too young for kids watching TV?

According to pediatrician Dr. David Hill, MD, FAAP, “it takes around 18 months for a baby’s brain to develop to the point where the symbols on a screen come to represent their equivalents in the real world.” It’s especially important before that age for babies to learn with real-life social interactions and not from screens. But what’s the harm of them watching TV if it just doesn’t mean anything to them if they just like the colors? Dr. Hill says, “good evidence suggests that screen viewing before age 18 months has lasting negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, and short-term memory. It also contributes to problems with sleep and attention.” He says even having the TV on in the background can delay language development because a parent talks less when it is on.

After the age of two, children can begin to learn from well-designed television shows. The only screen time recommended for children under two years old is video chats with family.

How does watching TV affect a child’s development?

Watching TV may sound harmless, but it has been linked in research to some pretty serious effects in child development.

One hour one time isn’t going give your child all of these issues, of course. It all depends on how much and over what period of time and on all of the other factors in your child’s life, like exercise, other screen time, outdoor time, social time, and parenting choices like discipline.

We know that “co-viewing,” or watching together, can mitigate these negative effects. If you watch TV with your child, you can engage in social time together, asking questions about what they are seeing and engaging a different part of their brain than just having them completely zone out. You can also monitor what your kids are seeing to avoid anything violent or inappropriate sneaking in.

You can also choose high-quality, educational shows for kids to watch. Remember that TV watching counts as TV watching whether it’s on a TV, phone, or tablet.

child standing in front of tv

How much TV should a toddler watch per day?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour or less of screen time, including TV time, for children ages 2 to 5 years old. They recommend none at all for children under two years old except for video chats with family. The World Health Organization gives the same recommendation.

How much TV should a child watch per day?

Above age five, the official guidelines only say to use your best judgment and to “limit” screen time. Most American children spend about three hours per day watching TV. The recommended cap of one hour goes away at age 5, but that doesn’t mean time is unlimited. You know your child and lifestyle best. If your child spends the day at school, has a family dinner, plays sports, reads, and is doing homework, then wants to watch some TV, it probably doesn’t matter too much how many minutes the show or movie ends up being. In other words, ensure your child’s day is full and balanced.

Kids watching TV: Best to limit it

Parenting isn’t easy, and TV is a helper that can make it feel easier, but try to find alternatives as much as you can for child distractions. The earlier children are exposed to TV, the more negative outcomes they may have, so a busy box, some alone time in a play yard, going on a walk, or a visit with Grandma is worth the try even though it’s tougher. The habits kids build now will stick with them for life so learning to zone out with a screen could be their go-to coping mechanism in the future. Try to balance going easy on yourself with the realities of parenting with pushing yourself to avoid TV time as much as you can.

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