Infants and toddlers surrounded by screens: Will that change how they learn?

In an increasing number of homes, the TV has moved from the living room to the children's bedrooms, even young children. (AP Images.)

In an increasing number of homes, the TV has moved from the living room to the children's bedrooms, even young children. (AP Images.)

Given last week’s reiteration by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under age 2 should not engage in any screen time, a new study by Common Sense Media finds three out of ten children 1-years-old or younger have a TV in their rooms. When you move up to children ages 2 to 4, 44 percent have televisions in their rooms.

The study found that even among infants and toddlers, screen media use dwarfs time spent reading. In a typical day, 0- to 1-year-olds spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes).

As James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media said in a statement,  “…the data shows infants and toddlers are growing up surrounded by screens. This use data is an important first step toward understanding how the prevalence of media and technology affects the development of our youngest kids.”

The pediatrics group cited research that screen viewing — focusing on passive watching on TVs, computers or smart phones –  can lead to slower language development. The group warned against the effects on children from “secondhand TV” viewing, explaining that adult TV watching in a home can mean that there is less talking to young children, a critical factor in language development.

The American Academy said it issued the guidelines because of the explosion of baby DVDs targeting the 0-2 age group.

This new Common Sense study on screen time among young children has implications for schools as children are arriving with far more exposure to screens than books, according to this study. Does that change how students learn?

Here is the Common Sense statement on the study released today:

Digital media has become a regular part of the media diet of children ages 0 to 8, with four in 10 2- to 4-year-olds and half (52 percent) of 5- to 8-year-olds using smartphones, video iPods, iPads, or similar devices, according to a national study on young children’s use of everything from television to mobile devices and apps. The study, which will be presented and discussed at a panel in Washington, D.C., today, is the first in a series of reports from Common Sense Media’s new Program for the Study of Children and Media.

“Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America” is the first publicly available, national research study to document young children’s use of new digital media devices such as iPads or other tablet devices and mobile apps along with older media platforms such as television, computers, and books. Among the key findings:

–42 percent of children under 8 years old have a TV in their bedrooms; 30 percent of 0- to 1-year-olds, 44 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds, and 47 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds.

– Half (52 percent) of all 0- to 8-year-olds have access to a new mobile device such as a smartphone, video iPod, or iPad/tablet.

–More than a third (38 percent) of children this age have used one of these devices, including 10 percent of 0- to 1-year-olds, 39 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds, and more than half (52 percent ) of 5- to 8-year-olds.

–In a typical day, one in 10 (11 percent) 0- to 8-year-olds uses a smartphone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device to play games, watch videos, or use other apps. Those who do such activities spend an average of 43 minutes a day doing so.

– In addition to the traditional digital divide, a new “app gap” has developed, with only 14 percent of lower-income parents having downloaded new media apps for their kids to use, compared to 47 percent of upper-income parents.

Despite the proliferation of new technologies and platforms, television continues to dominate children’s media use. Among all 0- to 8-year-olds, an average of 1:40 is spent watching television or DVDs in a typical day, compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to, 29 minutes listening to music, 17 minutes using a computer, 14 minutes using a console or handheld video game player, and 5 minutes using a cell phone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device.

Even among infants and toddlers, screen media use dwarfs time spent reading. In a typical day, 0- to 1-year-olds spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes). And some young children have already begun media multitasking: 23% of 5- to 8-year-olds use more than one medium “most” or “some” of the time.

“Much of the focus in recent years has been on the explosion of media use among teenagers, whereas our study examines media use among young children during crucial developmental years,” said James Steyer, CEO and founder, Common Sense Media. “Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed their position that children under age 2 should not engage in any screen time, yet the data shows infants and toddlers are growing up surrounded by screens. This use data is an important first step toward understanding how the prevalence of media and technology affects the development of our youngest kids.”

The release of today’s study also serves as the launch of Common Sense Media’s Program for the Study of Children and Media, a multi-year research effort directed by Vicky Rideout, a senior adviser to Common Sense Media and director of more than 30 previous studies on children, media and health. The goal of the program is to provide free, objective, and reliable data about young people’s media use to those concerned about promoting healthy child development, including policymakers, educators, public health experts, child advocates, and parents.

“These results make it clear that media plays a large and growing role in children’s lives, even the youngest of children,” said Rideout. “As we grapple with issues such as the achievement gap and childhood obesity, educators, policymakers, parents, and public health leaders need access to comprehensive and credible research data to inform their efforts.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

40 comments Add your comment


October 25th, 2011
9:20 am

It’s an easy babysitter. My kids are 13 and got smartphones when they were 12. They’ve never had a TV in their room. In fact, they didn’t watch much TV when they were young either. When they went to preschool, they were the only ones in the class who didn’t know what “Blues Clues” was.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

October 25th, 2011
9:30 am

Television programming, for the most part, could only dumb-down these children even more and possibly lead some to severe retardation.

Relic of the Past

October 25th, 2011
9:34 am

Books as we know them are out moded, expensive and enviromentally unfriendly. My tablet allows me to read multiple “books,” and I can decide on the size of the print as well as background lighting.

I could go on and on listing the advantages, but I think you get the point.

Once Again

October 25th, 2011
9:45 am

There is a big difference between a tablet/computer for enriching the mind and the idiot box spewing forth the garbage of hollywood producers. Turn off the TV, throw it out the window. For certain, get it out of your child’s room. Start being a parent for a change.


October 25th, 2011
10:24 am

Infants and toddlers have been surrounded by TV screens since 1950. That means the oldest are now in their early 60’s. I think 60 years is more than enough time to learn if being surrounded by screens is harmful or not.

Former teacher

October 25th, 2011
10:27 am

I have a 5 month old and we are trying to make the “no tv til 2″ thing happen, but it is hard. I watch tv while I nurse and he often turns his head when a loud ad comes on. Also, now that it is football season, my husband has tv on almost all weekend. So, he gets some passive tv viewing, but we will NOT “sit” him infront of a kids tv show when he can’t even sit yet! We read a book after every feeding and a couple before bed. He likes to eat them as well. :) I talk to him all day…I am a stay at home mom. I think the important take away is not that tv will make your kids stupid, but that tv keeps you from doing things with your child (reading, talking, singing songs) that makes your kid smart.

Maureen Downey

October 25th, 2011
10:32 am

@Carlos, That is true, but consider now that many toddlers are watching videos on car rides — which used to be time for family games and chatter — and even in their baby carriages. I see young kids in strollers with small tablets showing movies. Growing up, I did not know any kids with TV in their own rooms. I have to believe that having a TV in your room increases the time you spend watching. I have friends now who fall asleep every night to the TV on in their room.

Inman Park Boy

October 25th, 2011
10:33 am

So, Relic, what do you do when you lose power???

Teacher Reader

October 25th, 2011
10:43 am

Studies have been done to show that watching tv changes the way a child’s brain works. Limiting TV is a no brainer. Not having TV in bedrooms is another no brainer. There was always a huge difference in the way children who had limited tv and those that watched any and everything on tv behaved, thought critically, and problem solved. Those with limited tv had it all over those that sat in front of the tv for many hours.

Talking to your child, interacting with your child, playing outside, and reading to your child will give them a far superior edge than sitting them in front of the television and allowing the tv to do the parenting.

I want my child to know and understand my values, and not get his values from what he learns on tv, as they are not the same.


October 25th, 2011
10:45 am

I see young kids in strollers with small tablets showing movies.

That is downright scary. Children in strollers often cry when they want to get up and explore. Just give them the video morphine and you can go back to shopping. Unbelievable.


October 25th, 2011
11:25 am

Maureen – 10:32

Personally, I am more worried about the increasing number of teens and young adults who communicate more and more by texting and less and less in person. I think isolation is the key word here, whether it’s TV screens or computers or cell phone texting.

mystery poster

October 25th, 2011
11:25 am

It always makes me wonder when I see cars with the TV on in morning.

If your kid can’t even get to daycare without TV, what’s his attention span going to be like when he gets in school?


mystery poster

October 25th, 2011
11:26 am

Oh, but all we have to do is plop our babies in front of Baby Einstein and they’ll become instant geniuses!

mystery poster

October 25th, 2011
11:27 am

I agree with you about the isolation, but more than that I worry what the constant barrage is doing to kids’ attention spans. They expect to be continually entertained and have not developed the ability to use any kind of imagination.

HS Public Teacher

October 25th, 2011
11:31 am

Everything in moderation – this also goes for TV time, computer time, phone time, etc.

Good Mother

October 25th, 2011
11:46 am

I agree with the poster who worries about texting. It scares me too. I don’t text, but it is likely because my children don’t text. I am concerned about the day my children beg me for a phone because all their classmates have one. Right now I am trying very hard to fight off the DS and computer game pressure. My kids ask for them daily. I read to them every night and TV is limited to one cartoon or children’s program in the evening.

Colonel Jack

October 25th, 2011
12:18 pm

Frankly, I don’t think the issue is “how much time” they spend watching, even at that age. The issue is “What are they watching?”

If it’s the garbage that passes for most children’s programming today, then no – children that age don’t need any kind of television. Shows of the past (Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, etc.) are far superior to any of the nonsense that occupies the children’s program niche today. And don’t even get me started on “Spongebob” or other foolishness like that.

Atlanta Mom

October 25th, 2011
12:26 pm

Relic, you stated “Books as we know them are out moded, expensive and enviromentally unfriendly.”
Have you tried your public library?

Atlanta Mom

October 25th, 2011
12:28 pm

When my first child was still in one of those swings, I had the news on the TV while I prepared dinner. She paid no attention to it, until the commercial came on, and her eyes went straight to the TV. That’s when the TV went away in our house.

old school doc

October 25th, 2011
12:55 pm

all I can say is “AMEN!”
There is no reason for a child to have a TV or other “Screen” in his/her bedroom.

Attentive Parent

October 25th, 2011
1:16 pm

Jane Healy wrote an award winning book on this topic more than 20 years ago that every parent should read. is the Amazon link to it.

Has never been out of print since.


October 25th, 2011
1:34 pm

From Time Magazine Op-Ed by James Poniewozik

Having a kid means knowing that you are suddenly responsible for keeping a tiny person alive, that there are a billion ways to screw it up and that there are a billion people ready to tell you you are doing it wrong…as a parent, you learn that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. And sometimes the perfect is the enemy of your getting to take a goddamn shower. So yes, many was the time I put on a baby video to buy that most precious parenting asset: a few minutes. Did that help my kids? I am not going to lie to myself. Did it harm them? Not in any way I can ascertain…
In the end, I take pronouncements like the AAP’s like I take so many guidelines for parenting: as Platonic statements of an ideal that I will continually fall short of.

Read More:

Don't Tread

October 25th, 2011
2:10 pm

Yep….raised by the TV. No wonder that can’t pass classes in school and the teachers have to change their answers on the tests :roll:

Attentive Parent

October 25th, 2011
2:22 pm

Apparently JB is on board with the whole digitization of the mind agenda where mere socializing is considered a substitute for being able to actually think.

Works only if malleable citizens and manipulable customers is the goal. Now where historically do we find that mindset?

Does it ever have a nontragic ending?

So JB-do you have a T shirt that says- “Utopias-This time it will Work” printed on it?

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]


October 25th, 2011
4:52 pm

I am really stunned that so many children have TVs in their rooms before they can even walk to talk! I won’t allow my kids to have TVs in their rooms till they’re teens and certainly not at 1, at 3, at 5 or at 8.

Joy in Teaching

October 25th, 2011
4:58 pm

We’re ruining kids by giving them access to so much technology. We may convince ourselves that they are using it to study and to grow, but they are using it to communicate more with their friends.

“Teenagers and young adults mingle in a society of abundance, intellectual as well as material. American youth in the twenty-first century have benefited from a shower of money and goods, a bath of liberties and pleasing self-images, vibrant civic debates, political blogs, old books and masterpieces available online, traveling exhibitions, the History Channel, news feeds…and on and on. Never have opportunities for education, learning, politicical action, and cultural activity been breater. All the ingredients for making an informed citizen are in place.

“But it hasn’t happened. Yes, young Americans are energetic, ambitious, enterpirising, and good, but their talents and interests and money thrust them not into books and ideas and history and divics, but into a whole other realm and otehr consciousness. A different social life and a defent mental life have formed among them. Technology has bred it, but the result doesn’t tally with the fulsome descriptions of digital empowerment, global awareness, and virtual communities. Instead of opening yound American minds to the stores of civilization and science and politics, technology has contracted their horizon to themselves, to the social scene around them. Young people have never been so intensely mindful of and present to one another, so enabled in adolescent contact. Teen images and songs, hot gossip and games, and youth-to-youth communications n no longer limited by time or space wrap them up in a genrational cocoon reaching all the way into their bedrooms. The autonomy has a cost: the more they attend to themselves, the less the remember the past and envision a future.”

(from The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein)


October 25th, 2011
6:17 pm

Although I didn’t exactly follow the “no tv before the age of 2″ rule, I definitely limit my 4 and 6 year old’s tv time. In fact, just 20 mintues ago, we arrived home from gymnastics class and I told them… “No TV, t’s a beautiful day, you have a huge backyard, a trampoline, a swingset and a puppy… find something to entertain yourselves”. lol. And I have a few mintues of quiet time to check out the AJC! It has been my experience that if the parent is willing to just say NO to their children, they will find something to enterain themselves. Sometimes my kids just go up to their rooms and play dolls or talk to themselves which is fine by me because that stirs the creativity juices (both of my kids had/have imaginary friends). Also, I find that turning off the tv is good for their relationship as siblings because they actually play together and get to know each other very well.

Also, we do not have cable/satellite/dish or any other pay for tv service (by choice). Nor do we have a dvd player in the car (by choice) and my kids do not own Nintendo ds either. I feel cable tv only encourages our (both mine and theirs) addiciton to passively sitting and watching a screen. It is hard though when your kids are not up on everything tv. My 6 year old has never seen the Disney Channel (GASP!) and I like it that way. I find that most of those teenage Dramadies (drama/comedies) are for Tweens/Teens…. NOT preschoolers. I think it’s crazy what parents let their kids watch. I don’t think the shows (Hannah Montana, ICarly, Victorious etc etc etc) are necessarily bad, I just think they are for preteens. Yet, every kid in my daughter’s PRE-K watched them and many of the girls dressed and acted the part as well. It has also been my experience that the parents who allow the excessive tv viewing are the ones complaining about how “all the kids these days are just growing up way to fast”.

Now having said that, I do not keep my kids in the dark ages either. They know how to use a computer mouse and do play PBSKIDS.ORG sometimes. And yes, they have played angry birds on my ipad. But that is also also limited as well. My point is, limiting screen access can be done, even in this age of a technology driven society. The parent just has to be willing to say NO. Trust me, riding their bike daily won’t kill them!!!!!


October 25th, 2011
6:22 pm

This worries me. I see too many kids who are too dependent on imaginations NOT their own.


October 25th, 2011
6:28 pm

I find this whole technology trend shocking and overwhelming! What ARE we really trying to accomplish by surrounding our young people with all these gadgets? One unfortunate outcome is that education is trying to reconfigure learning around all this “stuff,” simply because kids are exposed to it more than ever. And right, where ARE the parents in all this?


October 25th, 2011
9:08 pm

I think Janet’s kids are gonna turn out just fine.

Miss Priss!

October 25th, 2011
9:19 pm

Adults are happily surrounded by screens, too … at Taco Mac and the Tilted Kilt. Who’s being dumbed down?

Attentive Parent

October 25th, 2011
9:22 pm

What ARE we really trying to accomplish by surrounding our young people with all these gadgets?

Can you say preferred govt vendor in a monopoly position?

We pay our taxes assuming education is a benefit when in fact it has been turned into a weapon.

What would you say if I told you how this media/video/computer push tied in directly to why refuse to teach reading using known effective methods to fluency?

Teacher Reader

October 25th, 2011
9:42 pm

@ Eric I agree. Technology in our schools are not being used to help children critically think or really to learn. There is a reason why many private schools are not jumping on the band wagon to have a one to one student – computer ratio on their campus. Parents think that schools having technology is such a great thing, and I haven’t seen it used in a way that makes the expense of the computers and other forms of technology worth it and think that this money would be better spent having smaller classrooms, more books, and other hands on materials that many schools are lacking.

Ole Guy

October 25th, 2011
10:12 pm

Has tv become the opiat of civilization?

[...] you read Tuesday’s blog entry on the startling numbers of babies and toddlers parked in front of TVs and computers screens, take a look at this New York Times story on how many [...]


October 27th, 2011
5:07 am

@ carlosgvv – Yes, kids have been around TV’s since the 1950’s, but during the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, the viewing amount and times of day to watch for kids was very different. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Sometimes, we watched shows like Gilligan’s Island after school or a show together with the family in the evening. There were no “infant dvd’s” targeting six month old babies. Many kids back then did not watch TV until at least 4 or 5, when some watched Sesame Street. We played outside mostly. Video games were not a big part of kids time until much later. So, you cannot draw conclusions that this is enough decades to show it has not been harmful.


October 27th, 2011
5:29 am

@ Former teacher – Regarding the difficulties when you nurse and your child turns when a loud ad comes on. Here’s a suggestion that worked well for me when I was nursing while up and in the family room. Set your TV to have the closed captioning on ( a simple setting to change on most TV’s). You can then have the volume down, the lights dim or off, and while your baby or toddler is nursing, they will not notice the TV or be disturbed by any sound. I did this many times without my child ever knowing the TV was on. I found this very useful, as it was difficult to hold a book and read while nursing.

Studies have shown that “background TV”, while children are playing stops their “problem solving” brain activity. It interrupts their thinking and they start over. Brain development is impacted.


October 27th, 2011
5:58 am

For all those parents that think that they need to use TV’s or videos “a little” just to have some time to yourself or shower, cook or whatever. I can tell you that you will have “tons” more time to yourself if you limit all TV watching the first 5 or 6 years. How is that? By having the TV off all day, your kids will be much more creative, independent, and will be able to easily entertain themselves for hours on end in the years ahead. You will be grateful for fostering that skill and you will have enough time to yourself. It takes discipline to keep it off and agreement between both parents, but you will be rewarded many times over if you have stick with it. Once you are used to it, you won’t miss the TV.

I find it increasingly frustrating that every business you go to now has multiple TV’s on, assuming everyone needs that at all times. My son always loved to watch “professionals” do their jobs, whether a barber, dentist or cashier. Nowadays, many businesses automatically have the TV on or ask what your child wants to watch. When I first took my son to a pediatric dentist with the TV on the ceiling, I told the worker he didn’t watch TV and asked them to keep it off. He enjoyed watching the hygenist and the next time we went, I noticed they had written on his chart to have the TV off. I did the same thing at hair salons. Let them observe and absorb the world around them. Let them interact with real people in the grocery store and take in the sights. Let them sit at the restaurant table and learn to have conversation and interact with the other kids and adults.

Sk8ing Momma

October 27th, 2011
9:42 pm