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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 what better time to start than when your child is young?
First, the bad news–the really bad news. “Excessive viewing before the age of three has been shown to be associated with problems with attention control, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development. Early television viewing has exploded in recent years, and is one of the leading public health problems facing American children,” according to University of Washington researcher Frederick Zimmerman.
In this article, we will look at the proposed links between screen time and lower vocabulary, ADHD, autism and violent behavior. Then we’ll look at how you might use baby TV and movies to help your child learn.
ADDITIONAL LANGUAGE ACCOUNTS A study by the University of Washington shows that 40% of three-month-old babies and 90% of two-year-olds regularly “watch” television 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 discovered that many parents believe they are providing educational and brain development opportunities by exposing their babies to 10 to 20 hours of viewing per week,” says researcher Andrew Meltzoff, a developmental psychologist. .
* According to Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study, that’s a bad thing. “Exposure to television takes time away from more developmentally appropriate activities such as a parent or adult caregiver and baby engaging in free play with dolls, blocks or cars…” he says.
* Babies aged 8 to 16 months who watched baby shows knew fewer words than those who did not watch them.
“The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Dr. Dimitri Christakis. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than babies who didn’t watch these videos.”
* Meltzoff says that parents “instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze, and social cues to support language acquisition” — obviously something no machine can do!
* Surprisingly, it made no difference at all whether the parent watched with the baby or not!
Why did these babies learn more slowly? Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, says “Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn. They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the viewing probably prevents. where the crucial wiring is laid down 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 early television viewing was noted by Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH et al.
“In contrast to the speed with which real life develops and is experienced by young children, television can portray rapidly changing images, landscapes and events. It can be overstimulating but extremely interesting,” say the researchers. “We found that early exposure to television was associated with later attention problems.”
The researchers examined data for 1278 children at the age of one year and 1345 children at the age of three. They found that an extra hour of daily television at these ages translated into a ten percent higher likelihood that the child would display ADHD behaviors by age seven.
AUTISM Autism is characterized by poor or no 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 hypothesize that “a small segment of the population is vulnerable to developing autism due to their underlying biology and that either too much or certain types of early childhood television viewing acts as a trigger for the condition.”
In his commentary on this study in Slate magazine, Gregg Easterbrook notes that autistic children have abnormal activity in the visual-processing areas of their brains. 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 screen images” can cause problems. I find this comment very interesting, as it would apply to the full spectrum from “quality children’s programming” to adult material.
VIOLENT BEHAVIOR The National Association for the Education of Young Children has identified the following concerns about children watching violence on television: * Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. * They may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways to others. * They may become more fearful of the world around them.
The American Psychological Association reports on several studies in which some children watched violent programming and others watched non-violent programming. Those in the first group were slower to intervene, 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 possible to use films at all? I think it is. I believe the key is to USE the program, not just KEEP it. Most people know that it is very good to read to babies, but no one would put a book in front of a baby and walk away thinking that it will do her any good at all!
Rock your baby or tap out to classical music or children’s songs.
Be very, very selective about what your young child watches — and watch with him. Does the program demonstrate kindness, helpfulness, generosity…whatever values you want your little one to learn?
When she is old enough to relate to the 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. Mom is your friend.” “The little 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 him.”
Make screen time a special — and very limited — time that the two of you share. Treat a baby or young children’s movie as you would a book – as another tool to give you topics for interaction with your little one.
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