Toddler TV. We let our kids watch, then we feel guilty. By L.J. Williamson for

When Teletubbies appeared in 1997, the world got its first glimpse of a TV series produced specifically for babies, as well as its first glimpse of a future utopia in which infants would be born with television screens embedded in their torsos. Many were appalled at the prospect of a program being marketed to a pre-verbal audience, and the show sparked debate about the appropriateness of television for toddlers. Yet, the program was largely embraced by the public, despite the misgivings of such high-profile organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 1999 recommended that children under two watch no TV whatsoever. More programming for babies followed, and today, Teletubbies is just one entry in a $1.5-billion market. That’s right, billion with a B as in baby.With numbers like those, even well-respected companies like Sesame Workshop can’t resist getting into the act. The Workshop’s Sesame Beginnnings competes alongside videos from successful babytainment brands such as Fisher Price, Baby Einstein, and Brainy Baby, and the twenty-four-hour-a-day cable channel for babies, BabyFirstTV, launched eighteen months ago. In 1997, television for babies was shocking; in 2008, it’s standard.

As makers of television shows and DVDs continue to produce more and more programs for babies, all of which claim to be educational or beneficial in some way, researchers continue to produce more and more studies that link television to ills such as speech delays and attention deficit disorder.

Parents haven’t totally ignored the anti-TV warnings from pediatricians; we’ve just assimilated them into our consciousness as we simultaneously violate them. The result is a nagging background noise of guilt competing with the background noise of the tube. Nearly every parent I’ve spoken to allows his or her child to watch TV, and nearly every parent has misgivings about it. We’re holding a remote in one hand, and a burden of guilt in the other.

“Last week, my older son was home sick so I just let him watch TV all day, but then my little one joined in. I felt bad about that,” said a parent at my daughter’s toddler class.

“I feel guilty when I’m watching one of my shows and then my son comes in the living room to join me. I was watching a Western and soon after he started imitating what he’d seen on the show, pretending to be playing with guns and shooting. I didn’t like that.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m Catholic and feel guilty about everything, but I do feel guilty about how much TV my kids watch,” said another mom. “I always think I should be spending more time playing with her or something.”

A teacher chimed in. “Trust your gut. If you’re feeling guilty, that means something.”

“But If I had to play with my kids all day, I would go crazy,” responded another parent. “I have things I have to do.”

“I don’t feel guilty at all,” said another. “We only watch educational shows, so I think its fine.”