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Early Learning – Can Movies and TV Ever Be Good For Babies and Small Children?
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 when better to start than when your child is young?
First, the bad news – really bad news. “Excessive viewing before the age of three has been shown to be associated with attention control problems, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development. Early television viewing has exploded in recent years and is one of the major public health problems facing American children,” reports Frederick Zimmerman, researcher at the University of Washington.
In this article, we look at the proposed links between screen time and lower vocabulary, ADHD, autism, and violent behavior. Then we’ll look at 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-old babies and 90% of two-year-olds regularly “watch” TV or movies. Researchers found that parents allowed their babies and toddlers to watch educational television, baby videos/DVDs, other children’s programs, and adult programs.
What can we learn from this study?
* “Most parents are looking for what is best for their child, and we found that many parents believe they are providing opportunities for education and brain development by exposing their children to 10 to 20 hours of viewing per week,” says researcher Andrew Meltzoff, development psychologist. .
* According to Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study, this is a bad thing. “Television exposure takes time away from more developmentally appropriate activities, such as the parent or adult caregiver and the child engaging in free play with dolls, blocks or cars…” she says.
* Infants aged 8 to 16 months who watched 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 babies scored about 10% lower in language skills than infants who didn’t watch these videos.”
* Meltzoff says that parents “instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze, and social cues to promote language acquisition”—something apparently no machine can do!
* Surprisingly, it doesn’t matter if the parent was watching with the child or not!
Why were these children slower learners? Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, says, “Kids need face-to-face interaction to learn. They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, it’s probably distracting.” with the key wiring laid in their brains during early development.”
ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The association between ADHD and early television viewing was noted by Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH et al.
“Unlike the pace at which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, television can display rapidly changing images, scenery and events. It can be overstimulating but extremely interesting,” the researchers say. “We found that early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attention problems.”
The researchers examined data for 1,278 one-year-olds and 1,345 three-year-olds. They found that an extra hour of daily television viewing at that age translated into a ten percent higher likelihood of a child exhibiting ADHD behaviors at age seven.
AUTISM Autism is characterized by poor or no language skills, poor social skills, unusual repetitive behaviors and obsessive interests. A University of Cornell study found that higher rates of autism appear to be related to higher levels of screen time.
The researchers hypothesize that “a small portion of the population is vulnerable to developing autism due to their underlying biology, and that either too much or certain types of television viewing in early childhood serves as a trigger for the condition.”
Commenting on this study in Slate, Gregg Easterbrook notes that autistic children have abnormal activity in areas of the brain that process vision. Because these areas develop rapidly during the first three years of a child’s life, he wonders if “excessive viewing of brightly colored, two-dimensional screens” could cause problems. I find this comment very interesting as it would run the gamut from “quality children’s programming” to adult material.
VIOLENT BEHAVIOR The National Association for the Education of Young Children has identified the following areas of concern for children watching violence on television: * Children may be less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. * They are more likely to behave in an aggressive or harmful manner towards others. * They may be more afraid of the world around them.
The American Psychological Association cites several studies in which some children watched a violent program and others a nonviolent one. Those in the first group intervened more slowly, either directly or by calling for help when they saw younger children fighting or breaking toys after the program.
Now that we know the bad news…
Is it even possible to use 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 good to read to children, but no one would put a book in front of a child and walk away thinking that it will do them any good!
Rock your baby or tap out the rhythm of classical music or nursery rhymes.
Be very, very picky about what your little one watches – and watch with them. Does the program show kindness, helpfulness, generosity… what values do you want your child to learn?
When she is old enough to get used to pictures of people, animals and toys, talk to her about what she sees. “Look at the puppy. He’s playing with the kitten. They’re friends. Mommy’s your friend.” “The baby birds are hungry. They are calling their mother. She will come back with some food.” “Oh no! The lamb is lost. I wonder if the shepherd will find it.”
Make screen time a special — and very limited — time that the two of you share. Treat a baby or toddler movie as you would a book – as another tool to provide topics to interact with your young child.
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