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cot potato

noun [countable]

a very young child who spends a lot of time watching television

'Cot Potatoes … It's doubtful if BabyFirstTV, the world's first 24x7 TV channel exclusively for infants, is exactly what the pediatrician would have ordered. The channel premiered in the US last week and its promoters claim that it offers "completely safe, commercial-free and appropriate content" for viewers between six months and three years.'

Hindustan Times 12th May 2006

Kids, just like many adults, love watching telly. Many parents, especially those of young children, would probably admit that when their kids are watching the box they're granted a welcome break or the opportunity to get on with what they need to do. If kids are enjoying a TV programme, they're safe, being entertained, and unlikely to demand Mum or Dad's attention for a while. But parents who plonk their little ones in front of the small screen just a bit too often should watch out … they may unwittingly be helping to create a 21st-century generation of cot potatoes.

cynics describe it as a cheap babysitting experience while your baby … gradually turns into a cot potato

The disapproving expression cot potato, a tongue-in-cheek description of a toddler who spends a lot of time watching television, gained currency in 2006 in the context of discussions surrounding BabyFirstTV. This is a 24-hour television channel launched in the United States which is aimed specifically at babies and very young children, claiming to feature programmes tailored to meet their educational and developmental needs. The channel's catchphrase is 'watch your baby blossom', and its promoters say that it can provide a 'unique parent co-viewing experience'.

However, BabyFirstTV has provoked a wave of controversy, amid concerns over issues such as attention deficit disorder and childhood obesity. Cynics describe it as a cheap babysitting experience while your baby fattens up nicely – and gradually turns into a cot potato. Their concerns were given credibility in February 2007, when psychologist Dr Aric Sigman published a report that identified 15 negative effects of television on children, and recommended that very young children should be banned from watching TV completely.

Background – cot potato

The expression cot potato is a 21st-century play on the earlier term couch potato, an informal, disapproving way of describing a person who doesn't take much exercise and spends a lot of time watching television. Couch potato dates back to the late 1970s and is thought to have first appeared in a December 1979 edition of the Los Angeles Times. Its exact origin is uncertain, but most likely relates to the idea of eating potato snacks (crisps and chips) whilst sitting on a couch (sofa) to watch the TV. It has spawned a couple of other related expressions: mouse potato, coined in the mid-1990s to refer to a person who spends an excessive amount of time sitting at a computer and surfing the Internet, and baked potato, coined around the same time to refer to a person who spends a lot of time watching the TV whilst under the influence of drugs.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 26th February 2007.

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