Q: Our daughter is three months old and likes to look at the bright colors and moving images on the television screen when I am bouncing her in the evenings. The images seem to calm her down, which is helpful for both of us (she usually falls asleep after just a few minutes and will stay asleep as long as I am bouncing her). I am currently binge-watching a courtroom procedural, so there is no violence or scary music or loud noises. And so, my question is this: Is it harmful for my young baby to look at the television for about 10-30 minutes a day? I certainly don’t *need* to watch television while I bounce on my yoga ball, but this baby needs quite a lot of bouncing, and it’s a good way for me to pass the time. Thanks in advance!
~ Baffled while bouncing, Portland, OR
A: Dear Baffled,
This is an excellent question, and it’s one that many new parents encounter as they find themselves spending time trying to calm an infant. Remember that all of the time you share with your daughter, including the time you spend bouncing on a yoga ball, is important for forming and strengthening the bond between the two of you. Physical and eye contact are essential to this bond and can affect your baby’s mood and how she self-regulates.
The challenge to her development is not that seeing the TV will harm her, but rather that it will distract her—and you—during a very intimate and developmentally important moment. Bouncing a baby to sleep is a time of intimate connection and comfort, a time in which she is reassured, in the most direct way, of your focus on and love for her. If you are watching TV, your attention is elsewhere and your daughter will sense it. If you want to have some stimulation in addition to your interaction with your daughter (and the bouncing), I suggest instrumental music. Soft, soothing music may help lull her to sleep (rather than arouse her physiologically as the blue glow of the screen does) and you may even sing or hum to her and move together to the music.
Once your daughter is asleep, it’s okay to turn on the TV while you are still bouncing her, just so long as the sound is not disruptive, scary, or stimulating. If you’re watching broadcast TV, remember to consider the commercials, which are designed to grab attention. Watching a low-key courtroom drama can be fine, but if a commercial comes on with loud music or attention-grabbing sound effects, they can wake up your daughter or disturb her sleep. Once she is asleep, put on headphones, orient your baby so that her face is pointed toward you and away from the screen, and enjoy your show.
Watching TV is an activity that you can enjoy together when your daughter is older and can better understand the sounds and images from the screen. While she is a baby, the best developmental stimulus and calming presence you can give her is you.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,