Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TV and Todders: What’s the Real Scoop?

We all know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of “screen time,” (i.e. television, videos, DVDs, online games, handheld games, movies, virtual worlds…) for children, and no screen time for children ages 2 and under.

So what happens when toddlers and young children watch more than their daily-recommended allowance? They are linked with later problems in life, according to a new Canadian study cited in last week’s New York Times:

For those children, each hour of extra TV exposure in early childhood was associated with a range of issues by the fourth grade. Compared with children who watched less television, those with more TV exposure participated less in class and had lower math grades. They suffered about 10 percent more bullying by classmates and were less likely to be physically active on weekends. They consumed about 10 percent more soft drinks and snacks and had body mass index scores that were about 5 percent higher than their peers. While it may be that children who watched more TV also had less involved parents, the researchers said they controlled for factors like a mother’s education, whether the child was in a single parent family and other parenting concerns. The findings suggest that the differences were strongly linked with television exposure, not parental care, and that excessive television is not good for a developing brain.

Indeed, children’s brain development is a critical factor at this age. Everything they see and do and experience creates connections that have a long-term affect. So – why didn’t the study look at the kinds of television that children were viewing in addition to how much? I think this is a critical piece of missing information.

According to Dimitri A. Christakis and Frederick J. Zimmerman, authors of "The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids "At its best, TV can educate and inspire. High-quality documentaries offer insights into history that no book can equal. Children's educational shows have the proven ability to help children learn to read to be kind, and to share. In short, when used appropriately, television has the power to expand horizons and help children's cognitive, social and emotional development."

Similarly, according to University of Massachusetts psychology professor Daniel Anderson, an internationally known expert on television and early childhood development, “I am absolutely firmly convinced of the power of television for serving positive developmental ends. Well-made television that’s designed to benefit children really does benefit them.”

What do you think?

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