Maternal Depression Increases Television Exposure for Infants

There is much debate as to whether exposure to television programming aimed at young children is beneficial or harmful. Some experts believe that infants are deprived of valuable parent-child interaction and play time, critical elements of child development, when they are exposed to too much child-directed programming. However, other experts believe that much of the programming designed for young children and infants can provide them with necessary language tools and skills that they may not otherwise receive from their caregivers, especially in situations where caregivers have limited social, verbal, and educational experience.

Depressed mothers of young children are more likely to experience deficits in healthy communication and interaction with their infants. The negative feelings that accompany depression can impair a mother’s ability to engage with her child and limit her willingness and motivation to teach through game playing and verbal cues. Many depressed mothers turn to the television as a source of distraction from their rumination. They may create relationships with characters on television to replace the unhealthy relationships in their own lives. Additionally, depressed mothers, and nondepressed mothers, often rely on the television as a babysitter for their children.

To understand the trend of television usage in depressed mothers, Anna M. Bank of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University led a study that looked at what type of programming 84 depressed mothers most often exposed their infants to. Based on information gathered from a questionnaire and interview, Bank found that the children of depressed mothers were exposed to more television overall than the children of nondepressed mothers. Although adult-directed programming was minimal, Bank still believes this raises concerns as infants may experience negative repercussions as a result of absorbing adult content programming. The study did indicate that depressed mothers kept child-directed programming on for their children more often than nondepressed mothers. Even though these programs offer benefits to the children, unless there is parent discussion and dialogue during and after the programming, these children may not receive the positive effects of what they are watching. Depressed mothers are unlikely to interact with their children with respect to the programs because of their emotional state. Bank added, “Our results suggest that depressed mothers may use television as a coping mechanism, both in terms of their own emotions and as a parenting tool.” Therefore, Bank believes that interventions that are aimed at improving parent-child development strategies for depressed women should focus on media outlets already being accessed by these mothers.

Bank, A., Barr, R., Calvert, S., Parrott, W., McDonough, S., Rosenblum, K. (2012). Maternal depression and family media use: A questionnaire and diary analysis. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 21.2, 208-216.

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  • Lucky


    April 20th, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    I know women who aren’t depressed who have used tv as a babysitter just to get themselves a little peace and quiet. Little known secret of the stay at home mom.

  • kenna


    April 20th, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Someone has to see what is going on don’t they? Are the family members of these new moms so oblivious that they can’t tell that this is someone who is depressed and who needs help? There have been too many stories and too much information out there recently to not realize that many new moms face an overwhelming challenge living up to the expectations of what they think motherhood should be like. They become depressed and it is a no brainer that for many of us when we become depressed you kind of check out and avoid even the most basic responsibilities. I know that it is a hard thing to face but we have to keep this dialogue about this issue going because there are far too many new mothers and babies who are facing this and we do not want to hear about another sad outcome from something like this in the news.

  • shaun


    April 20th, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    infants are completely dependen on their caretakers,and primarily the mother.any health problem with the mother is bound to have Effects on the child and it’s development.and depression can quickly engulf one’s life and can there y seriously hinder the attention given to the infant!

    and I would be interested in knowing how such cases are handled and any to–do tasks could help.

  • jasmine


    April 21st, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    This is going to sound bad but it is really how I feel: how selfish of these women to let this take waay from time with their babies. This is prime bonding time, time that you can never get back. That is the thought that should make you depressed over anything else, if you are wasting all of that time letting the television take care of your child. You will never get this time back, and look at the ways that it is being squandered! There are moms who would do almost anything to have this kind of time at home with their child and take that time to become closer to them.

  • ashleigh


    April 22nd, 2012 at 4:43 AM

    TV may can stand in for some of the language and social skills that they are missing out on from the parents. . . but it can’t make up for the lack of parent time that the kids are missing out on

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