The debate: Should you let your toddler watch TV?

Two moms face off on the topic of toddlers and TV.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

“Yes, I let my toddler watch TV”
Leah Rumack, Deputy Editor, mom of one

I have a confession to make. I let my two-year-old, Ben, watch TV. And I always have.

From the time he was but a wee sprout, I’ve parked him in front of the telly, ignoring all medical advice that says you shouldn’t let your kid watch TV at all until he’s two. We also got him a tablet when he was 15 months old. There, now you know. And I truly don’t believe that my husband and I are terrible parents for it.

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I’m not suggesting parents stick their kids in front of a television or iPad for hours so they turn into plump, slack-jawed little zombies. But the “everything in moderation” motto here is apt. I find it really hard to believe that a little bit of screen time is going to stunt Ben’s development irrevocably and lay the groundwork for his future as a playground terror.

And a fter a whole Saturday of kindergym, playdates, trains, drumming on the recycling bin, books, walks around the neighbourhood to discuss how, yes, every single parked car you pass has wheels, several rounds of peekaboo, and some quali ty puzzle playing, I think the kid has earned a minute (or like, half an hour, OK? Sue me!) to kick back and find out what’s new with the Bubble Guppies. And I deserve it, too. What am I, a dancing bear? I can’t entertain him for 14 hours a day. Sometimes I have to make dinner. Or, like, pee.

I do admit that sometimes I worry things have gone a little too far. Like the time my parents came over to play with their only grandchild and Ben just kept begging for his tablet. Or the way his little hand semi-regularly flaps around pathetically on top of the credenza where he knows we “hide” the remote. But he’s usually more than happy to be distracted by a story or a tickle game. And then, after the day is done, after the bubbles in the bath have drained away, after the special squash purée that I made just for him is instantly chucked on the floor and licked up by the cat, there’s Ben, my husband and me together in the living room, all cozily lit by the glows of our respective screens as the cruel, cold world passes by outside.

If that’s wrong, baby, I don’t want to be right.

Read more: Is using a tablet to keep your kid occupied lazy parenting?>

“No, I don’t let my toddler watch TV”
Stacey Stein, mom of two

Have you heard about the mom who wouldn’t let her kid watch TV until he turned two? Well, I am that mom. There was no Elmo, Dora or Barney in our house until my eldest son’s second birthday. And now, at age five, he has yet to tap away on an iPad or iPhone, even though many of his peers have almost-constant access to these expensive toys. Some kids his age even have their very own device.

No, I’m not a Luddite or technophobe. I’m no crazier than most other parents. But I do have my reasons. When an organization like the American Academy of Pediatrics makes a recommendation, I pay attention. So when they advise no TV for kids under the age of two, you can bet I’m going to think twice before plopping my kid on a couch while he zones out in front of Baby Einstein. If even one small study links TV exposure to shorter attention spans, slower language acquisition and increased aggression in kids, why take the chance? Sure, TV is an easy way to occupy young kids, but why not set them up with an activi ty that engages them in a more meaningful way? Blocks, crayons and music come to mind. And then there’s you: You are infinitely more interesting to your little ones than any screen will ever be.

I’m scared by the zombified expression kids get when they’re engrossed in technology — be it a TV, smartphone or tablet. I believe children are hard-wired to be social, to engage with each other and the world. More and more, this isn’t happening. I’ve been on playdates where kids are busy with their tablets, not playing with each other. I see kids at restaurants absorbed in a screen, not talking with their parents. Sure, those couples may be having a more peaceful meal than my husband and me, but we refuse to sedate our kids with technology.

Read more: Are you a digitally savvy parent?>

People tell me that children need to learn how to use technology early or they risk falling behind. But if my friend’s 75-year-old father can learn to use an iPad, surely my five-year-old will learn to master it when I feel the time is right. For now, there are forts to be built, monsters to hide from and tickle games to be played. The devices can wait.

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