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Is it OK for a Newborn to Watch TV?

by April Sanders

Even if a newborn baby could see the TV -- newborns are very nearsighted -- he shouldn't be allowed to watch it. It's not OK for a newborn to watch TV, and it's not OK for older babies to watch TV, either. In fact, HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that parents keep all children under the age of 2 away from the television.

Newborns Can't See Very Well

A newborn's eyes are still developing after she's born. They are sensitive to bright light, so she will probably only open her eyes in dim light at first, and she certainly won't want to look at a bright television screen. Newborns also have poor vision. At best, a newborn baby can only see about 6 to 10 inches in front of her, according to HealthyChildren.org, and newborns can't distinguish between similar colors. Newborn babies also have sensitive hearing; loud noises startle them. So even if it is beneficial for your newborn to watch TV -- it's actually harmful -- your newborn wouldn't be interested in the bright, blurry shapes and loud noises coming from the screen.

Television Can Hurt Brain Development

A baby's brain triples in size from the time he is born to the time he turns 2, according to the Parents.com article entitled, "Is TV Really That Bad?" The most important factor that drives this brain growth is external stimulation -- real-world stimulation, that is. An infant's vision is developing in three dimensions, but a television screen only shows images in two dimensions. In addition, as the camera cuts away to show different angles, the action on the screen is broken up into pieces. Both of these things make it difficult for a baby to understand or learn from what is happening on the screen, and it can hamper brain development as well. In fact, viewing TV in children under age 2 can negatively affect short-term memory and early reading skills, according to HealthyChildren.org. It can also cause sleep and attention problems. Even worse -- all these effects are long lasting.

Educational Programs Don't Teach

So, let's say you put your newborn or older baby down in front of an educational TV program like, "Sesame Street." Won't the baby get some benefit from the show? Sadly, the answer is "no," according to a December 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. The study, entitled "Infant Media Exposure and Toddler Development," was conducted by six medical researchers, led by Dr. Suzy Tomopoulos. The study, which analyzed the development of over 250, 6-month-old babies over a period of 8 months, found that the more babies were exposed to digital media -- primarily television -- the lower their cognitive and language development was at the age of 14 months. In addition, the study found that young children don't benefit from educational programs any more than they do from programs designed for sheer entertainment. So if you are tempted to plunk your baby down in front of the TV and pop in a video that states it can teach your baby how to read, think again. It is actually more likely to delay her language. Even televisions left on in the background -- not directly in front of a baby -- have been shown to adversely affect language development because parents tend to talk to their babies less often when the television is on, according to Healthy Children.org.

What to Watch, Instead

Newborn babies love to look at human faces, so spend as much time as you can in face-to-face interaction with your newborn. They also love bright colors, contrasting, black-and-white patterns, and objects that move. Move a brightly colored toy slowly across your newborn's face -- hold it about 8 inches from her eyes -- and watch as he tracks it. If his eyes cross slightly, don't worry -- that's perfectly normal at that age, according to KidsHealth.org.

About the Author

I can write in a wide variety of styles, from academic to humorous (see links to my blog above).

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