The American Academy of Pediatrics says so—and they have been saying so since 1999 when they published their first policy paper on television’s effect on children.
In November of last year, the Academy published an update, which pertains to all devices, including ipads videos, and ebooks designed for young children. Here’s the advice they want pediatricians to give to parents:
For children up to eighteen months to two years: No screen time, except Skyping with relatives, (The Skyping is probably for the benefit of the relatives not the children.)
For children 2 to 5 years: No more than one hour a day, but no solo viewing. Parents should watch with the child, reacting and explaining what they are seeing. Choose “high-quality” programming.
No screens (including adult screens) during meals, parent-child playtime, and for one hour before bedtime.
Turn off the TV when not in use.
So what’s the problem?
Little children love TV; it soothes them; and parents and caregivers need a break! But because the brain changes and develops so rapidly during the first three years, babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to the environmental impact on structures of the brain. To pre-verbal children, television is just a series of mesmerizing pictures that change about every six seconds. Makes no difference if they’re watching Sesame Street or Sunday Night Football. Since they are still forming connections between neurons, repeated exposure to this kind of experience can impact future verbal abilities and cognitive ability.
Meaningful learning from television doesn’t occur before age three, and even then, children learn best from interacting with their environment. They need to explore with their hands, engage in hands-on play, listen to words spoken to them by members of their family or their baby sitter—people who are personally giving them their undivided attention.
That’s why pediatricians advise parents to watch television with their young children, actually treating the TV like they would a book.
But if you need to pretend the TV is a book, why not just read a book to the kid instead of watching TV?
We don’t need a scientific study to conclude that books and a familiar adult reader are better for very young children than TV:
- Physical proximity is easier when you cuddle up with a child and a book.
- You and the child control the pace. You can linger over an interesting page or skip those that aren’t. You can talk about the story or just be silent while she stares at the images that intrigue her. There is no movement or bells and whistles to distract from the story.
- And after she has learned to talk, one day you may find that she has memorized the story and will recite it by heart as she turns the pages in the appropriate place.
And with that she has begun to learn to read to herself.
(Because my babies were girls, I use the feminine pronoun, but I will make it up to the boys with a picture):
Hands On! Baby Sam and his dad.
For more on effects of TV on early childhood development, including references, go here
As for schoolchlldren, the downside of television is the time it takes away from reading and independent play. Herb and I wrote a book about children’s folklore, an aspect of children’s play that contributes to their development. The publication of that book led to my fifteen minutes of fame, but that’s another story. mlk