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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 child or a child, you want to help your child reach his 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 major public health problems facing American children,” according to. University of Washington researcher Frederick Zimmerman.
In this article, we look at the suggested links between screen time and lower vocabulary, ADHD, autism and violent behavior. So let’s see how you can use children’s TV and movies to help your child learn.
LOWER LANGUAGE SKILLS A study by the University of Washington shows that 40% of three-month-olds and 90% of two-year-olds “watch” TV or movies regularly. Researchers found that parents allow their infants and toddlers to watch educational TV, children’s videos/DVDs, other programs for children, and programs for adults.
What can we learn from this study?
* “Most parents are looking for what is best for their child, and we have found that many parents believe that they are providing educational and brain development opportunities by exposing their children 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, this is a bad thing. “TV exposure takes time away from developmentally appropriate activities, such as a parent or adult caregiver and a child engaging in free play with dolls, blocks or cars…” he says. .
* Children aged 8 to 16 months who watched children’s programs 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 children scored about 10% lower on language skills than children who did not watch these videos.”
* Meltzoff says that parents “instinctively adjust their speech, eye contact and social cues to support language acquisition” – obviously something no machine can do!
* Surprisingly, it made no difference whether the parent watched with the child or not!
Why did these children 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. You don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the observation likely to interfere. with the crucial wiring that is installed 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 pace with which real life develops and is experienced by 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 subsequent 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 television viewing each day at these ages translates into a ten percent higher chance that the child will exhibit 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 appear to be linked to higher rates of screen time.
The researchers hypothesize that “a small segment of the population is vulnerable to the development of autism due to their underlying biology and that too much or certain types of early childhood television viewing serves 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 area of their brain. 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 found this comment very interesting, as it applied to the entire spectrum from “quality children’s programming” to adult material.
VIOLENT BEHAVIOR The National Association for the Education of Children has identified the following areas of concern for children who see violence on TV: * Children may be less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. * They may be more likely to behave aggressively or harmfully towards others. * They may become more afraid of the world around them.
The American Psychological Association reports on several studies in which some children saw a violent program and others saw a nonviolent program. 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 WATCH it. Most people know that it is very good to read to children, but no one will put a book in front of a child and walk away, thinking that it will do them something good!
Check out your child or tap the rhythm to classical music or children’s songs.
Be very, very picky about what your child watches – and watch it with him. Does the program show kindness, helpfulness, generosity…whatever values you want your child to learn?
When she is old enough to relate to pictures of people, animals and toys, talk to her about what she sees. “Look at the puppy. Play with the kitten. They are friends. Mom is your friend.” “The birds are hungry. They call for their mother, she will return 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 child or a children’s movie in the way you treat a book – as another tool to give topics for interaction with your little one.
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