Early Learning: Can Movies and TV Be Good for Babies and Young Children?
What an important question! As the parent of an infant or toddler, you want to help your little one reach his or her potential. We know that language and social skills are very important to 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 main problems public health issues facing American children, “according to Frederick Zimmerman, a researcher at the University of Washington.
In this article, we’ll look at suggested links between screen time and low vocabulary, ADHD, autism, and violent behavior. Then we’ll see how you could use television and baby 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 “watch” television 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 seek the best for their children, and we found that many parents believe they are providing educational and brain development opportunities by exposing their babies to 10-20 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. “Television exposure takes time away from more developmentally appropriate activities, such as an adult parent or caregiver and a baby who plays freely with dolls, blocks, or cars …” he says.
* Babies 8-16 months 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 10% less in language skills than the babies who had not seen these videos.”
* Meltzoff says that parents “instinctively adjust speech, gaze, and social cues to support language acquisition,” obviously something no machine can do!
* Surprisingly, it made no difference whether the parents watched with the baby or not!
Why did these babies learn more slowly? Dr. Vic Strasburger, a 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 by watching TV or videos. In fact, watching is likely to interfere. 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. Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH et al.
“In contrast to the rate at which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, television can show rapidly changing images, landscapes and events. It can be overstimulating but extremely interesting,” say the researchers. “We found that early television exposure was associated with later attention problems.”
The researchers examined data from 1,278 children at the age of one year and 1,345 children at the age of three. They found that an extra hour of television a day at these ages was a 10 percent more likely that the child would exhibit ADHD behaviors by the age of 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 related 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 watching too much or certain types of television in early childhood serves as a trigger for the disease.”
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. Since 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 entire 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 who watch violence on television: * Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. * They may be more likely to behave in an aggressive or hurtful 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 watched a non-violent one. Those in the first group took longer to intervene, either directly or asking for help, when they saw the younger children fight or break toys after the program.
Now that we know the bad news …
Is it possible to use films? I think it is. I think the key is to USE the program, 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 it would do him any good.
Move your baby or play to the rhythm of classical music or nursery rhymes.
Be very, very picky about what your young child sees, and watch with him. Does the program show kindness, kindness, generosity … whatever values you want your little one to learn?
When he is old enough to relate to pictures of people, animals, and toys, talk about what he is seeing. “Look at the puppy. He’s playing with the kitten. They’re friends. Mommy is your friend.” “The little birds are hungry. They are calling for their mother. She is coming back with some food.” “Oh no! The little lamb is lost. I wonder if the shepherd will find him.”
Make screen time special – and very limited – time for the two of you. Treat a baby or toddler movie the same way you treat a book – as another tool to provide you with themes for interaction with your little one.