What an important question! As a parent of a baby or toddler, you want to help your little one reach their potential. We know that language and social skills are very important for success in school and in life. And what better time to start than when your child is small?
First, the bad news, the really bad news. “Excessive viewing before age three has been shown to be associated with attention control problems, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development. First viewing of television has exploded in recent years and is one of the major public health problems that must addressing American children, “according to University of Washington researcher Frederick Zimmerman.
In this article, we will look at suggested links between screen time and lower vocabulary, ADHD, autism, and violent behavior. So we’ll see how you could use children’s TV and movies to help your child learn.
LOWER LANGUAGE SKILLS A University of Washington study shows that 40% of three-month-olds and 90% of two-year-olds regularly “watch” TV or movies. The researchers found that parents allowed their infants and young children to watch educational TV, children’s videos / DVDs, other children’s programs, and adult programs.
What can we learn from this study?
* “Most parents seek out what’s best for their child and we have found that many parents believe they offer educational and brain development opportunities by exposing their children to 10-20 hours of viewing per week,” says the researcher Andrew Meltzoff, developmental psychologist.
* According to Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study, this is a bad thing. “TV exposure takes time away from more developmentally appropriate activities, such as a parent or adult caring for them and a child who is committed to playing freely with dolls, blocks or cars …” he says.
* Children between the ages of 8 and 16 months who saw the children’s programs knew fewer words than those who did not.
“The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Dr. Dimitri Christakis. “These children scored about 10% lower on language skills than children who hadn’t seen these videos.”
* Meltzoff says parents “instinctively adjust their speech, gaze and social cues to support language acquisition” – obviously something no machine can do!
* Amazingly, it made no difference whether the parent was watching with the baby or not!
Why do these children learn slower? Dr. Vic Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, says, “Kids require face-to-face interaction to learn. They don’t get that interaction by watching TV or videos. In fact, watching probably. it interferes with the crucial wiring that is established in their brains during early development. “
ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. A link between ADHD and first viewing of TV was noted by Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH et al.
“In contrast to the pace at which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, television can portray rapidly changing images, scenarios and events. It can be overly stimulating but extremely interesting,” say the researchers. “We found that early television exposure was associated with subsequent attention problems.”
The researchers looked at data for 1278 children at the age of one and 1345 children at the age of three. They found that an extra hour of watching television per day at these ages resulted in a ten percent greater chance that the child would exhibit ADHD behaviors by age seven.
AUTISM Autism is characterized by poor or absent language skills, poor social skills, unusual repetitive behaviors, and obsessive interests. A Cornell University study found that higher rates of autism appeared to be linked to higher rates of screen time.
The researchers speculate that “a small segment of the population is vulnerable to developing autism due to their underlying biology and that too many or certain types of early childhood television watching serve as a trigger for the condition.”
In his commentary on this study in the journal Slate, Gregg Easterbrook notes that autistic children have abnormal activity in the visual processing areas of their brains. As these areas are developing rapidly during the first three years of a child’s life, he wonders if “excessive display of two-dimensional images on the brightly colored screen” could cause problems. I find this comment very interesting, as it would apply to the whole spectrum from “quality programming for children” to adult material.
VIOLENT BEHAVIOR The National Association for Early Childhood Education has identified the following areas of concern for children who watch violence on TV: * Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. * They may be more likely to behave in an aggressive or harmful way towards others. * They may become more fearful of the world around them.
The American Psychological Association reports on several studies in which some children watched a violent program and others a non-violent one. Those in the first group were slower to intervene, either directly or by asking for help, when they saw younger children arguing or breaking toys after the program.
Now that we know the bad news …
Is it possible to use the films? I think it is. I believe the key is to USE the program, not just WATCH it. Most people know that it is very nice to read to children, but no one would put a book in front of a child and walk away, thinking it will do them good!
Rock your baby or tap the beat with classical music or children’s songs.
Be very, very choosy about what your little child looks at and watch with him. The program shows kindness, availability, generosity … what are the values you want your little one to learn?
When she is old enough to relate to images of people, animals, and toys, tell her about what she is seeing. “She looks at the puppy. She is playing with the kitten. They are friends. Mom is your friend.” “The birds are hungry. They are calling their mom. She will come back with some food.” “Oh no! The lamb is lost. You. Who knows if the shepherd will find him.”
Make screen time a special, highly limited time that the two of you share. Treat a child or a children’s movie the same way you treat a book, as another tool to provide you with topics to interact with your little one.
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