(WARNING: Children mentioned.)
If you know me in real life or have been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am a reader and a planner. Being both a reader and a planner, I naturally was aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that discourages media use by children younger than 2 years of age long before our sons were born.
You may find this hard to believe, but I have a couple of friends who are parents and have actually abided by this recommendation. Really. They got rid of their TVs when their children were born, or moved them to an area of the house where the children never are, and their children watched no TV whatsoever until they were older. That includes videos.
From what I've read on this subject, the most troubling possible side effect of early media use is that it can adversely affect brain development. However, this possibility has not (yet) been borne out by research. In fact, even the AAP admits "no longitudinal study has determined the long-term effects of media use on infants and children younger than 2 years."
Given that my greatest concern is the possible adverse effects on brain development, it's the act of watching TV itself, and not just the content of the program(s) being watched, that's a problem. Sure, it's probably wise not to let your infants watch slasher films, or action movies with gunfights and car crashes, or war scenes. But if the danger is its effect on brain development, it seems to me that that danger would be just as present with a Baby Einstein video or Sesame Street as with adult dramas.
If I were the only parent to our boys, we simply would not have a TV in our house. I have lived entirely without TV for a few long-ish periods in my life, and frankly, I didn't really miss it. Since MM and I have been married, he has picked the TV programs which are on in our house 99% of the time. I only exercise "veto power" in that I don't permit him to force me to watch shows I don't want to watch. (To avoid possibly offending some who also like those shows, I won't mention any by name. Suffice it to say, they are all "reality" TV shows. I do offer to leave the room, though, so he can watch, so I don't "forbid" him to watch those shows.)
Nowadays I don't really have time to watch TV, even if I wanted to. So it would be no hardship to me whatsoever to eliminate it completely from my life.
However, my sons have another parent, MM, who loves TV and scoffed at the mere suggestion that its viewing be limited in our home. There is literally no chance that he would let me remove our TV from our house. He won't even let me cut out our extended cable because he "need[s] [his] sports" and claims he has "given up almost everything already."
Our "family position" is a compromise between MM's position (all TV, all the time) and mine (no TV, or extremely limited TV). He has (mostly) agreed that anything which is not rated "G" cannot be on when the boys are awake (although I have to remind of this from time to time), and I have given some and let the boys watch a few minutes of a Baby Einstein video or SportsCenter while their food settles after a feeding or so that MM can take a shower in the mornings.
The result? At this point in their lives, I think AJ and MJ have watched more ESPN than anything else. That is, to the extent that they actually watch what is on.
During the eight hours a day, four days a week, when our nanny is with the boys, the TV is off. One of our house rules for the nanny is "no TV," and believe it or not, she was happy to abide by it. (Her last family allowed their children to watch far too much TV, in her opinion.)
When the boys are older, we will continue to limit their TV viewing both in terms of time and of content. We intend to do the same with computer usage and video games, too. It's our intent that the boys will spend the majority of their time either engaged in active play, reading or away from home for various activities (sports, music lessons, etc.).
I don't think there is any real harm in babies watching some Baby Einstein videos or other age-appropriate programming, but I don't believe there is any huge benefit to it either. (At least, no controlled study has thus far demonstrated any benefit.) Talking and playing with children is of more benefit to them in their learning and development than any media, in my opinion.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my views are based primarily on the research, AAP recommendations and reading I've done. Growing up, my sister and I watched A LOT of TV. I mean, A LOT. The TV was on in the mornings before school and as soon as we got home until we went to bed. We also got an Atari gaming system in our teen years and played it a lot. And we both went on to be scholastically successful. So based on my own childhood experience, I can hardly condemn TV or media.