Q: I am the mother of a very active 18-month-old little boy who loves one particular episode of Sesame Street. Other than this one particular episode, he does not watch TV and for the most part, he's uninterested even if the TV is on. My question is, although I know children under two should be discouraged from watching TV, is it harmful for him to watch Sesame Street? This program does not have any commercials and seems harmless. Please let me know your thoughts; any information is much appreciated.
Uncertain about Sesame, Norristown, PA

A: Dear Uncertain,

Pediatricians recommend limiting screen media before the age of 2 because young children learn little from screens. As far as the brain is concerned, the little time that kids are awake at this time of life is better spent doing other things. But, you’re right, screen media are not inherently toxic to this age group—they’re just not ideal.

Your son probably loves that particular episode because it’s familiar to him. He has mastered its sounds, songs, and images, so it feels comforting. But don’t confuse this kind of attention with learning — your son is not at a developmental age where he is taking in the instruction on letters and numbers.

When he’s a bit older, however, watching the same episode of an age-optimal TV show over and over again will actually help him learn from it. Research shows that kids between the ages of 3 and 5 learn more each time they watch the same episode of a show like Blue’s Clues than they do from watching an episode only once. If he watches many of those shows before that age, though, he will no longer be interested in them when he’s old enough to truly benefit from them.

In short, know what you’re choosing for your son. Although an episode of Sesame Street will not damage him, spending that time playing with blocks or clay will do more toward building a flexible, resilient, and creative brain.
>>See other Q&A about toddlers and media

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

One Response to “Is there anything wrong with letting my 18-month-old watch the episode of Sesame Street that he loves?”

  1. Lil

    I watched Sesame Street from about 9 months on. As a young child, I was obsessed with that show but rarely watched any other television. According to my mother, I started reading single words at 21 months. I could say the alphabet both forward and backward by age 2. I got into fights with my kindergarten teachers because they wouldn’t let me read test directions to myself, and I read the first grade reading textbook that was intended to last the entire year overnight. By the end of the first two weeks, I had covered my school’s entire elementary reading curriculum, and they would not allow me to go on to the middle school or high school content, so I had to just sit there doing nothing in reading class for the next six years! Each year, from elementary through high school, I scored at the 99th percentile on the vocabulary subsections of standardized tests. I scored a 1230 on the SAT in 7th grade, a 25 on the ACT in 8th grade, and, as a senior in college, I scored in the 97th percentile on the verbal portion of the GRE. I have a hard time believing allowing young kids to watch Sesame Street is too detrimental.


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