In our last blog, we discussed the negative impact of technology and use of electronic devices in promoting bonding and attachment, learning, and school readiness. Today, we will expand on this topic by exploring the specific developmental and health consequences related to exposing infants and young children to television, whether used as foreground or background media. As in all blogs, we will reference the Growing Great Kids resources available around this topic and conclude with a few tips and recommendations from the experts.
According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a Pediatrician and also the Director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington, it is not just the age at which children start to watch TV, but it is also the amount that they watch that is concerning. Since the time TV came into our homes, some 60 or 70 years ago, the media landscape has evolved considerably. In the early days, it was estimated that a typical child began watching TV at 4 years of age and consumed approximately 3-4 hours per day. Today, the typical child begins watching TV at 4 months old and is engaged in media for up to 8 hours per day (Christakis, 2010). The American Academy of Pediatrics has also revealed some alarming findings around this issue. They said that 90% of parents report that their children younger than 2 years watch some form of electronic media (TV programs, DVD, videos). By the age of 3 years, approximately one-third of children have a television in their bedroom (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). Parents report they use television as a peacekeeper, a safe activity, and even as part of their children’s sleep routine. All of this is connected to the industry’s efforts that target young children and their parents as key consumers of electronic media including educational videos, television programs, and cable networks.
Researchers point out that infant TV viewing might adversely affect critical milestones of early childhood related to language and cognitive development, attention capacity, and social skills. Screen time has also been associated with health issues including obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors, and attention issues for school age children. Experts say that the flashing lights, scene changes, quick edits, and auditory cuts may be overstimulating to developing brains and children’s abilities to regulate mood, behavior, and learning. Additionally, TV viewing limits the infant’s opportunities for quality time with human caregivers (Christakis, 2010). Babies need face-to-face interactions with their parents/caregivers!
The Growing Great Kids Curriculum incorporates several conversation guides with topics specifically designed to share research findings on TV and Child Development and to explore ways with parents to decrease the amount of TV time. Here are just a few of the many topics:
- 0-3 Months: Cues and Communication: No Benefits from Infant DVD’s and TV Programs
- 0-3 Months: Cues and Communication: Infants Need Face-to-Face Interaction
- 4-6 Months: Cues and Communication: Foundations for Language Learning
- 7-9 Months: Physical and Brain Development: Brain Cells: Use Them or Lose Them
- 10-12 Months: Play and Stimulation: Learning Problem Solving Through Play
- 16-18 Months: Physical and Brain Development: TV and Early Brain Development
- 22-24 Months: Play and Stimulation: Arranging Your Toddler’s Day
- 31-36 Months: Physical and Brain Development: Increasing Attention Span
- 31-36 Months: Physical and Brain Development: Encouraging Receptive and Expressive Language Development
- 31-36 Months: Basic Care: I Want to Sleep Handout
Some recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011) around infant/children TV watching include:
- No media use for children under the age of 2
- Set media limits for children and have a strategy for managing background media
- Avoid placing a television in the child’s bedroom
- If children are engaged in TV watching, turn the TV off at least 45 minutes before the child’s bedtime ritual begins
- Substitute TV time with parent-child and independent play
- Provide activities and toys to increase the child’s attention span
While eliminating media might not be realistic for many parents, knowing the adverse effects on their children’s development and health would hopefully motivate them to set limits for TV time and look for creative ways to interact with their children. Also, remember that GGK provides hundreds of Child Development Activities for parents and children to experience face-to-face interactions!
Christakis, Dimitri A, M.D., M.P.H. (2010). Infant media viewing: First, do no harm. Pediatric Annals, 39(9), 578-82. http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/00904481-20100825-10
The American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. Pediatrics Volume 128, Number 5. Retrieved from www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2011-1753
The American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Babies and Toddlers Should Learn form Play Not Screens. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Babies-and-Toddlers-Should-Learn-from-Play-Not-Screens.aspx