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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 attention control problems, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development. Early television viewing has exploded in recent years and is one of the main problems of public health issues facing American children,” he explains. Frederick Zimmerman, researcher at the University of Washington.
In this article, we look at the suggested links between screen time and lower vocabulary, ADHD, autism, and violent behavior. Next, we’ll look at how you can use baby TV and movies to help your child learn.
LOW LANGUAGE SKILLS A University of Washington study shows that 40% of three-month-old babies and 90% of two-year-olds “watch” TV or movies regularly. The researchers found that parents allowed their infants 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 educational and brain development opportunities by exposing their infants to 10 to 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 caregiver and an infant playing freely with dolls, blocks, or cars…” she says.
* 8- to 16-month-old babies who watched baby shows knew fewer words than those who didn’t.
“The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Dr. Dimitri Christakis. “These babies scored about 10% less in language skills than babies who hadn’t seen these videos.”
* Meltzoff says that 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 parents watched with the baby or not!
Why do these babies learn more slowly? Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, says, “Babies need face-to-face interaction to learn. They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, viewing likely interferes with the crucial wiring that is established in their brain during early development.”
ADHD Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. 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, landscapes and events. It can be overstimulating but very interesting,” say the researchers. “We found that early exposure to television was associated with later attention problems.”
The researchers looked at data from 1,278 one-year-olds and 1,345 three-year-olds. They found that an additional hour of television viewing per day at these ages translated into a ten percent greater likelihood of the child exhibiting 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 because of their underlying biology and that too much or certain types of television in early childhood serve as a trigger for the disease.”
Commenting 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 a child’s first three years of 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 across the spectrum from “quality children’s programming” to adult material.
VIOLENT BEHAVIOR The National Association for the Education of Young Children identified the following areas of concern about children watching violence on television: * Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. * They are more likely to behave aggressively or harmfully towards others. * They may be more afraid of the world around them.
The American Psychological Association reports several studies in which some children watched a violent program and others a non-violent one. Those in the first group were slow to intervene, either directly or by asking 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 movies? I think it is I think the key is to USE the show, not just WATCH it. Most people know that reading to babies is great, but no one would put a book in front of a baby and walk away, thinking that it will do them no good!
Rock your baby or hum along to classical music or nursery rhymes.
Be very, very picky about what your toddler watches and watch with him. The program shows kindness, kindness, generosity…what values do you want your little one to learn?
When she’s old enough to relate to pictures of people, animals, and toys, talk to her about what she’s seeing. “Look at the puppy. He’s playing with the kitten. They’re friends. Mom is your friend.” “The birds are hungry. They are calling for their mother. She will return with 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 the same way you treat a book: as another tool to provide topics for interaction with your little one.
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