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The Dangers of Baby TV

 

Q. I'm a little worried and a little ashamed: I know I am letting my daughter watch too much TV. It is just such a good babysitter! But I know I'm shortchanging her, developmentally. What does research tell us is the impact of watching too much TV on the young child's learning power?

 

Well, it's not good. These days, 40% of three-month-olds watch television, DVDs or videos regularly. Three months old! By the age of two, 90% of children watch 1 1/2 hours of TV or videos a day. It is not unusual to walk through an airport and see a mother holding a very young baby up to a laptop showing a TV show - purposely mesmerizing the infant to keep him or her quiet for a while.

 

It's obvious that there are long-term consequences of this behavior, and those consequences aren't good for children's brains or our nation's future There's a reason they call the television "the plug-in drug." It's long past time we unplugged it, instead.

 

Many programs and movies aimed at infant and toddler audiences claim to be educational and to stimulate babies' "cognitive development." A recent study, however, came to the opposite conclusion about such products.

 

The study, appearing in the Journal of Pediatrics, found that the more "educational" movies infants ages 8-16 months watched, the more slowly their vocabularies developed. For each hour per day infants watched these programs, they understood six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them.

 

Infants in the study watched movies from brands such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, which sell well and generally have a good name with parents. The group, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against both of those brands, for claiming to help babies learn when the research seems to contradict that claim. The complaint also includes BabyFirstTV, the first channel specifically for babies and toddlers.

 

In general, research reports that preschoolers who watch a lot of TV have more trouble sitting still and listening to stories and short discussions than children of previous decades did. That doesn't bode well for the teachers of those children's future.

 

You've probably heard TV called "brain candy" for kids, and it really is a lot like junk food. There is nothing wholesome or creative about it. The children become undemanding, passive spectators who go into almost a trance-like state around the boob tube. In stark contrast, they should be outside playing, manipulating toys, making crafts, and interacting with friends. The damage to a child's imagination is probably the saddest of all. When you are turned into someone who can only absorb video, and can't think logically or creatively, you can only consume - you can't produce.

 

The language deficits caused by TV watching are a bit deceptive, since a child who watches it a lot may seem to be more sophisticated in language use compared to his or her classmates. But by fourth grade, when the academic expectations are becoming more complex, the smaller vocabulary, inability to compose sentences and paragraphs effectively, and reading comprehension all start to slip.

 

Even though language and math thinking processes don't seem related, a child's experience with logic comes from his early experiences with language, chiefly the grammar of the sentences and questions he hears. So when a child hears mostly TV slang and broken bits of dialogue, he doesn't get into the habit of thinking logically, and so he is hamstrung when it comes to logical thinking for math.

 

What's the answer? You know what it is. We all do. Turn off the tube. Do it now!

 

Homework: There's excellent information and advice for parents in the book Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think - And What We Can Do About It, by Jane M. Healy.

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Ages & Stages 106 2008

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