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Fussy infants and toddlers watch more TV

CNN News Wire | 4/14/2014, 12:09 p.m.
Does your baby have difficulty calm him or herself? Falling and staying asleep? It can be stressful, especially for new ...

Does your baby have difficulty calm him or herself? Falling and staying asleep? It can be stressful, especially for new parents. But once again, researchers are recommending that parents avoid plopping them down in front of the television.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, fussy babies and toddlers tend to watch more TV and videos than infants with no issues or mild issues. And that can lead to problems down the road.

"We found that babies and toddlers whose mothers rated them as having self-regulation problems - meaning, problems with calming down, soothing themselves, settling down to sleep, or waiting for food or toys - watched more TV and videos when they were age 2," said study author Dr. Jenny Radskey, who works in the division of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.

"Infants with self-regulation problems watched, on average, about 9 minutes more media per day than other infants. This may seem small, but screen-time habits are established in these early years."

"Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2," says the American Academy of Pediatrics because they say "a child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens."

Radskey says the infants and toddlers who had the fussiest behavior were 40% more likely to exceed those AAP guidelines. This study also found that 42% of 2 years-olds exceeded those guidelines.

What's not clear, according to Radskey, is whether they watched more TV because they were fussy and their parents put them in front of the TV as a distraction, or if the heavy TV use contributed to their self-regulation problems. But Radskey says one thing is clear: "Several studies show that too much screen time before age 2 or 3 is associated with language and learning delays, ADHD, and difficulties in school - probably because the screen time replaced early learning activities. And also probably because early media habits predict later media habits."

Infants get very little from watching TV, Radskey says, and it could be overstimulating them, so viewing time should be minimal.

"A little bit of calm, educational and age-appropriate media is probably fine in this age group, and is probably beneficial if it leads to less-stressed parents who can get some things done in the meantime," she said. "But the primary way that infants and toddlers learn is through play with their caregivers and exploring environment, not looking at 2-dimensional images."

The researchers looked at data from nearly 7,500 children born in 2001 who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. At 9 months and again at 2 years old, parents filled out the Infant Toddler Symptom Checklist, a scale that looks at self-regulation. The checklist identifies infants and toddlers who are fussy, and have problems with sleep, eating and regulating mood and behavior. They found that at age 2, these children watched about 2.3 hours of TV or video a day.