Read this article to learn why watching TV with your newborn in the room is problematic and what activities you can do instead.
Most experts advise against watching tv with newborn in the room. Giving screen time to your newborn so you can take a break while watching tv can impact your baby’s brain development, cause speech delays, and impact their sleep schedule. It is safer to introduce TV to their environment around 18 months.
Parenting can be one of the more rewarding and exhausting jobs you have, and it can be tempting to sit in front of the TV while your newborn is playing and resting. Keeping a newborn entertained and happy all day, every day, can test even the most creative parents. Turning on the TV to experience some rest for yourself and hopefully entertain your baby seems like an excellent middle ground.
However, experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise against enjoying your favorite show while your newborn is in the room. It might not be your intention for them to watch along with you, but chances are they will. While moderate screen time is acceptable for toddlers and older children, any kind of screen time for infants can cause developmental issues.
Why is Watching TV with a Newborn Problematic?
Watching TV around your newborn can impact their brain development by lowering the myelination of brain white matter. With this impact on white matter, newborns can have speech and other language delays because they are not actively listening to language inputs from an in-person caregiver. It can also cause shorter sleep durations.
The AAP advises that even older children should only have about 1 hour of screen time per day. This limit is because studies show screen time can impact how their brain develops, especially white matter which supports language and literacy skills. It can cause caregivers to speak less around the infants, which can negatively impact their ability to learn a language.
Another negative impact of newborns watching TV is that it can result in fewer minutes of sleep per night, resulting in shorter durations of sleep and more waking throughout the night. There is an even more significant impact on their sleep schedule when screen time occurs in the evenings.
When is a Newborn Watching TV Safe?
AAP guidelines state that you should wait until your child is at least 18 months old before introducing limited screen and TV time. It is best if a parent or caregiver is in the room with them and the programs and applications are for younger kids. This is not the same as a caregiver watching what they want and having the infant in the room.
You should not have screens on around your newborn until they are at least 18 months old though you may find it beneficial to wait as late as 24 months of age. You will want to limit their time around screens such as TVs to 1 hour at most, but the less time, the better. It’s best to save your TV time for after they’re asleep.
If you are going to have the TV on to entertain your newborn, then pick programs for infants. It’s tempting to catch up on your favorite series or tune in to a sports channel, but you should avoid anything other than kids programming. Also, try to schedule screen time, so it isn’t right before they need to sleep.
What Activities Can You Do Instead of Watching TV?
Finding other activities you can do with your newborn to keep them entertained is a much better option than turning on the TV. You can go for a walk and point out different things you discover, read a book together, or play with textured fabric toys. It’s best to have activities you can do together, resulting in bonding and language learning.
Incorporating physical activity into your newborn’s day is an excellent way to keep them entertained while also getting them in the habit of living a healthy lifestyle. A daily walk is a great place to start, but you can also introduce mini dance parties where you sing along to funny songs and play outdoors with pets or siblings. Even exploring the backyard can be fun.
There is an assortment of books for infants out there that have stories you can read together and have pictures and tactile stories to encourage interaction with the narrative. Reading stories with your newborn acts as active language acquisition and can help their language development.
Some other activities you can do instead of watching TV are:
- Letting the newborn play with plastic bowls and spoons while making dinner so you can keep an eye on them while also including them in meal preparations.
- Playing peekaboo in a mirror. Any game involving a mirror is entertaining and helps develop social skills like face recognition.
- Start teaching sign language.
- Playing hide-and-seek with toys like stuffed animals or other colorful toys.
- Talk or sing to your newborn, using different tones to keep attention.
- Play with bubbles while enjoying to outdoors.
- Play a tracking game by holding a toy in front of your newborn, wiggling is to get attention, then moving the toy from side to side so they can follow it with their eyes. This helps with eye development.
- Play follow the leader by using simple actions like clapping your hands, stomping your feet, and waving. You can even go through some of these actions with your newborn to help them learn.
Try making a list of activities that you can think of to add to this list so you will always have something you can turn to when you need to entertain your baby. You can keep the list on your phone or print them out to post somewhere you can see them and add new ideas as they come to you.
Some Guidelines for Watching TV Around Newborns
The AAP recommends that parents and caregivers wait until the newborn is at least 18 to 24 months old before allowing exposure to screens, including TVs. However, the AAP also gives some guidelines regarding safely having screens around children. These guidelines include limiting screen time, having specific rooms where screens are allowed, and restricting the content children view.
After waiting until your child is old enough to view screens, the AAP gives some guidelines to ensure that you and your child are using screens like TVs responsibly and in ways that will entertain your child without having lasting adverse effects.
These guidelines are:
- Watch TV together. Watching TV together allows you to keep track of what your child is watching and will enable you to talk to them about what they are watching to initiate bonding and active language learning.
- Do not allow TVs or other screens in bedrooms. Exposure to screens before sleeping can negatively affect your child’s ability to sleep through the night.
- Enforce a screen time limit. Limit your child’s screen time to 1 hour or less per day when they are from 2 to 5 years old.
- Create a screen-free zone. Have rooms in your house where TVs are not allowed, such as the kitchen or a playroom, to prevent excessive screen time. You may want to consider only having a TV in the living room, so your child has to watch it in there.
- Be an excellent example for media use. Children model their habits after what they see from the adults around them, so you must be the caregiver to set a good example. If they see you watching TV all the time, they will think it is acceptable behavior. You must live by your words around them.
- Choose appropriate content. Children shouldn’t watch the same programs as you, so ensure that you are picking appropriate content for your child to watch. This could be content like children’s programming and educational content or content that encourages interaction and creativity.
- Don’t eat while watching TV. Many families sit in front of the TV while eating, but you should avoid making this a habit for your child. Eating while watching TV not only encourages children to eat by themselves instead of with family, but it can also encourage mindless eating that can result in eating extra calories.
These are only guidelines, and you should feel free to change them a bit to fit your life. The most important thing is to ensure that everyone in the house knows and agrees to these guidelines. You may also want to print out these guidelines and keep them somewhere anyone can see them, even if your child isn’t old enough to read, as a reminder for yourself.
Watching TV with your newborn in the room is problematic because it can cause development issues and delays in language acquisition. It is better to wait until the child is at least 18 months of age before having screens on around them, even if it isn’t your intention for them to watch with you. After your child is old enough, take precautions to ensure they watch TV safely.