The prevailing wisdom is that TV is terrible for young children. But a new study by the researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School shows that while TV viewing doesn't benefit very young kids, it doesn't seem to harm them, either.
"In this study, TV viewing in itself did not have measurable effects on cognition," said Dr. Elsie Taveras, senior author of the study and pediatrician at Children's. "TV viewing is perhaps best viewed as a marker for a host of other environmental and familial influences, which may themselves be detrimental to cognitive development."
It's worth noting that while the study took into account a host of variables -- mother's age, education, household income, marital status, and the child's gender, race, birth weight, body mass index, and sleep habits, among other things -- it did not examine the actual content being viewed by the 872 children involved. And though infants and young children who spent hours at a time in front of the television may not suffer from cognitive delays, TV exposure has been associated with increased risk of obesity, poor quality of sleep, and attention problems.
To that end, the American Association of Pediatrics still recommends that children watch no more than two hours of "quality" programming per day, and that children younger than 2 watch no TV at all. (Most kids in the US watch about three hours of TV a day).
But there are times when your young kids are going to be watching TV. You're working from home. There's a new baby in the house. Your child is home from school with a cold. It's not practical to expect that toddlers will never watch TV.
A reader recently asked for suggestions for shows that are appropriate for a 2-year-old. Barney was banned from our household when our oldest, now 15, was a toddler -- we just couldn't stand to watch it with her -- but there are plenty of age-appropriate, slow-paced, toddler-friendly TV shows that do make the cut. Here are a few of them:
Teletubbies (PBS): It's sweet and simple, slow-paced, and has nearly no dialog, which makes it a winner with the toddler set. (If you want a show with educational value, however, look elsewhere).
Sesame Street (PBS): Sesame Street and I debuted in the same year; the mix of short sketches and an episode-long theme is still the same, but new characters and concepts keep things interesting for parents and kids alike. I love the puns that my kids don't get (a band called "The Beetles" made up of singing bugs, for example, or a snake named Monty the Python).
Curious George (PBS): Based on the classic books by H.A. and Margaret Rey, George's curiosity is still getting that little monkey into loads of funny trouble. Watch a short episode during the day and savor the books at bedtime.
Oswald (Nick Jr.): A gentle blue octopus and his sweet little dog make friends with the quirky residents in their make-believe town. A penguin voiced by David L. Lander, who played Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley, is amusing for parents of a certain age (like me).
Yo Gabba Gabba! (Nick Jr.): I didn't get this show at first, but then I fell in love with the music. Be sure to check out the special appearances by The Roots, The Ting Tings, and other bands. Also: "Don't Bite Your Friends" is toddler-friendly genius.
Blues Clues (Nick Jr.): My teenager loved this as a tot, and it's cool to see her bonding with her baby siblings over the puzzles pitched by this friendly blue puppy.
Do you let your young kids watch TV? What shows on your short list?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.