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How Much TV Can Kids Watch?

Some experts have called screen-time for children "The greatest unacknowledged health scandal of our time." But are the Wonder Pets really so bad? An honest look at tots and TV:

The official word: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for kids under 2, including TV and video games. "It’s clear that children younger than 2 are learning nothing from television," says Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D., UCLA professor of public health and author of The Elephant in the Living Room. "There is some suggestive research that associates early television viewing with subsequent problems of attention control, sleep problems, and slower development of reading and math." Zimmerman’s own research has found that kids who don’t watch language-development DVDs are actually more likely to pick up new words than those who do.

The reality: On average, kids ages 6 months to 3 years watch an hour of TV daily. "A minimal amount of television—a half-hour a day—will probably not cause any long-term harm," acknowledges Zimmerman. What’s more, "If a short amount of TV gives the parent a real break so that they then return to parenting with renewed energy and enthusiasm, that can be good thing." Karyn Ravin, a mom of two in Quogue, New York, lets her 2-year-old catch a half hour of his favorite show—Yo Gabba Gabba, Backyardigans, Animal Atlas—while she puts her 5-month-old to bed. As she says, "I know he’ll be glued and not get into anything he isn’t supposed to!"

What’s better than TV: Playing, and lots of it. "I’m a big fan of putting pans, wooden spoons, and plastic containers on the floor for children to explore," says Zimmerman. "Open-ended play sparks their imagination." And, of course, it’s fun!

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