A Primer on Toddler Screen Time

I confess, this assumption that toddlers and babies shouldn’t be exposed to TV or iPads baffles me, and even frustrates me a little. I don’t think its the screen-based entertainment that is really the issue, but how we use it.

Since my girl was born, I have always been very liberal with her exposure to TV and allowed her to play with the iPad. There are SO MANY amazing apps and shows out there, targeted for all age groups, and I have watched her skills grow by leaps and bounds.

So, how do I use TV and gaming with my toddler? Well, what I don’t do is use it as a babysitter. Yes, I do a few quick chores and if she is engrossed in what she is watching or playing it makes it easier on me. One of my favorite tricks is to let her sprawl on the dining room table and play while I cook dinner so I can keep an eye on her. Parent of the year, right?


But 90% of the time my husband or I are sitting with her. She asks us questions about what she sees, she asks for help if she gets stuck on a game or a puzzle, and we sing the songs on the shows together.


The reason I think allowing babies and toddlers access to TV and games is so important is that we are ignoring a reality – kids get tired, too. I don’t mean ‘nap time’ tired. I am mean, I-have-had-a-long-day-of-learning-and-exercise-and-playing-with-tactile-toys-and-I-just-want-to-sit-on-the-couch-and-be-passively-entertained tired. There is nothing wrong with letting your little one space out and unwind. I think its just as vital to our emotional health as eating, sleeping, and feeling productive.

Long Day

I do have a schedule. She can watch TV for about an hour when she wakes up in the morning because she is usually feeling a little snoozy and cuddly. Once my mother-in-law shows up to take over so I can work, they don’t watch any TV. They play, they walk, they have adventures. At some point, she takes a nap. When my shift starts again at 5PM I turn the cartoons on. If she is tired, she watches them. Again, I am there. We sing, we recite the stories and poems, and we relax. On days that she is full of beans she slides off the couch on her own and finds something interactive to do, at which point, I just switch to music and we play at what she wants. Just because cartoons are offered does not guarantee she has any interest in watching them.

So, I’m sorry, but what is the big deal? Why the insistence that TV or video games ruin young children? I think for parents and child care professionals to make broad assumptions that screen time is to be avoided entirely is denying access to what I have found to be a fantastic resource. I can’t believe how good her retention and problem solving skills are – at 2 years old she plays games meant for 3-5 year olds and she kicks ass at them. She shows so much pride in herself when she finishes a puzzle or figures out something new. High fives are had all around.


I will end this post with a list of shows that I personally think are the most enriching, in case you want to try them for your little one.

  • Peg + Cat (Math and problem solving and just totally hilarious)
  • Daniel Tiger (Social/Emotional development and parenting skills)
  • Taratabong (Music exploration, education about instruments and musical theory)
  • Baby Genius (Ranges from animals and scenes of children playing with classical music to children’s songs. Really great for infants.)
  • Guess with Jess (Scientific method)
  • Creative Galaxy (Art appreciation)
  • Thomas the Train (Team work)
  • Blues Clues (Puzzles/Problem Solving)
  • Signing Time and Baby Signing Time (Great resource for you and your child to learn sign language together and lots of great songs to sing along to. Was enormously helpful for Abbey to have a pathway to communicate when her verbal skills hadn’t gotten started yet and allowed me to better understand her gibberish when she did start talking because she would sign as well.)

This is just a sample and I confess I like the content of PBS Kids shows more than Disney. Nickelodeon has some cute stuff, too, like Blues Clues. Another bonus is that many of these shows have apps you can download and they have a tendency to feature the same skill set in the app that the show intends to teach.

Anyway, for those of you that have been guiltily allowing your toddlers to watch TV and play with your iPad, I hope I have cheered you up. And for those of you that are freaked about letting screen time into your child’s life, I hope this can be a resource for you to get started. I promise the sun will not spontaneously drop out of the sky.