When is it Ok to Let Your Baby Watch TV?

Picture it: You’re out to dinner with your little cutie, eager to get them accustomed to being out in public and also excited to enjoy a meal and conversation with your partner, when suddenly bubs starts acting up. No worries—you stocked your diaper bag with their favorite toys and soft books. But one by one, each of your well-planned tricks is tossed aside in an escalating tantrum. Panic sets in, and the only thing left in your calm-down arsenal is, well, your phone. Could it be that hard to find a cute, baby-friendly cartoon on the internet? And is it really that bad to hand over the screen if it buys you and your partner some peace and quiet?

Is TV Bad For Babies?

That go-to last resort may do more harm than good when it comes to your baby’s development. Research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in August 2023 found that one-year-olds exposed to screen time developed delays in communication and problem-solving at ages 2 and 4 years old. While the study found an association between screen use and developmental milestones, it didn’t directly look for a cause and effect connection. That said, in the 7097 children that were part of the study, researchers found that the more screen time they had, the greater the chances of developmental delays.

When Can Babies Watch TV?

Those latest findings offer one more reason to follow the official guidelines by the the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—both of which discourage any “sedentary screen time” for children younger than 2 years old, whether on a tv screen, computer, or mobile device, and recommend limiting sedentary screen time to less than one hour for kids age 2-5.  

In summary, babies should not watch tv or have any screen time until after 24 months of age.

Alternatives to Toddler Screen Time

With screens off the options list, there are some other ways to keep your baby happy and entertained:

Limit “captive” time to an hour or less. The WHO recommends babies younger than 2 years old shouldn’t be in a high chair, stroller, or even wearable carrier for more than an hour at a time. So if you are going out to dinner or for a long walk, limit it to 60 minutes or less. (Children ages 3 and 4 should also be allowed some free-range time after an hour of sitting.)

Try the airplane trick. Whether you’re headed out for sushi or anticipate a long wait at the doctor’s office, try the go-to move of parents who fly with babies and young children: Bring along not only old favorite toys and books, but also some brand-new ones that will feel novel and exciting. No need to bust the budget on this one—sometimes the simplest drug-store toy can lead to endless fascination. 

Stick to a schedule. On days when you introduce something new into your baby’s routine—like a restaurant meal or an older child’s sporting event—be sure to keep the rest of their schedule on track. Stick with the familiar cadence of feedings, naps, tummy time, etc, and once you’re home, go right back to that comforting routine. 

Streamline your activity. We don’t want to call it a race against the clock but… we know one set of parents that would give their 18-month-old a little container of oat cereal to munch on in the stroller when they were shopping or dining out—and when the cereal ran out, they knew it was time to go home. So skip the appetizers, take the short walk around the lake, and be prepared to head home even if the game goes into overtime.