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TV for Toddlers – Top Tips for Parents

Author: Stephanie Erdle, MedSchoolForParents.com Editor
The year was 1968, and the first American educational television program intended for children aired on TV – it was the famous “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.  The program featured Fred Rogers, a gentle, soft-spoken minister, songwriter and author.  Simple, slow-paced and with no animation, the program portrayed everyday life.  Each episode began the same way: Mister Rogers is seen coming home, singing his famous theme song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”.  Each episode would typically explore a major theme of everyday life, such as going to school for the first time. 
Today, parents have hundreds of “educational” TV shows to choose from – Baby Einstein, Baby Genius, Dora the Explorer – many of which claim to improve brain development of your own “little Einstein”.  These shows are now targeting younger and younger audiences. 
So what is the real benefit and could there be a dark side to having our kids glued to the tube (or mobile device in this world of rapidly changing media consumption)?
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has been researching this very topic for many years.  His team studies how the early environment impacts childhood behavior and development.  The scientific papers, together with hundreds of hours of following children and the vast data gathered from testing young children, led Dr. Christakis and his colleagues to determine that early TV exposure, particularly fast-paced programs, could lead to attention problems later in life.
“In the first two years of life, the brain triples in size.  It is an extraordinary period of brain growth, unparalleled over the life course,” says Dr. Christakis, in an interview for MedSchoolForParents.com.  “We know from decades of research that too little stimulation early in life is bad for brain development.  There is now a concern that too much of the wrong type of stimulation can be equally harmful.”
Dr. Christakis notes that children today are watching more television than ever before, and starting at an earlier age.  “Today the average child starts watching television at 4 months, and the typical child watches 4.5 hours of TV a day before age 5, which represents as much as 40% of their waking hours.”  Since really young children are unable to understand the content of these television programs, newer shows designed for this young age group, such as Baby Einstein, rely on fast-paced screen changes to keep them engaged.
Dr. Christakis’ “Overstimulation Hypothesis” suggests that prolonged exposure to rapid image changes during early brain development preconditions the mind to expect high levels of stimulation later on, hence leading to inattention later in life.  “We found that for each additional hour a day of watching TV before the age of three, their chances of having inattention at age seven increase by 10%.  For example, a child who watched two hours of TV a day before age three would be 20% more likely to have inattention than a child who watched none,” suggests Dr. Christakis. 
Cognitive stimulation (such as reading, going to the museum, singing, playing with blocks) seems to reduce the chances of inattention later in life.  “So, there are certain things that we can do early on in our children’s lives that enhance their ability to pay attention, and certain things that actually impede them,” according to Dr. Christakis.
What to Watch?
What children watch is also very important, based on program pacing.  The team in Seattle Children’s found that educational, slow-paced programs like Mr. Rogers posed no increased risk of inattention later in life.  Fast-paced programs, on the other hand, designed for entertainment, like the Powerpuff Girls, increased the chances by about 60%.  Violent programs were found to be the most harmful, doubling the chances of inattention later in life.
So what should we do about those kids hungry for screen time?  Like most things, the answer is moderation.  It is important to minimize television watching before age two, especially rapidly sequenced programming, and maximize real-time play for young children, according to Dr. Christakis. 
The American Academy of Pediatrics formally recommends less than two hours of recreational television watching a day. 
This can be challenging, so here are some Top Tips from Med School For Parents to help your toddler stick to the limit: 
1.      TV-free bedrooms - This will help decrease overall screen time and will help regulate sleep. 
2.      No TV during meals - This is an easy way to cut down on overall screen time.  Instead, try to make conversation a priority during meals.
3.      Encourage active recreation - Encourage your kids to take part in sports, hobbies, clubs, and the arts.  
4.      Family Night - Designate certain evenings for special family activities, like a family bike ride or games night.
5.      Physical Barriers - Make the television physically inconvenient. Consider putting the TV somewhere that isn’t in plain view.  Too often, the television is a backdrop to family life.  Put the TV in a small, out-of-the-way room, or in a cabinet.
6.      Watch programs, not television - Rather than allowing your child to sit down and watch whatever is on, thoughtfully select together what to watch.  Turn off the television when the program is over.
7.      TV not a reward - Don’t use TV for reward or punishment. This situates television watching as too valuable.
8.      Not a diversion tool - Involve your child in what you are doing.  For example, if you are folding laundry, make a game out of matching socks.  If older kids are doing homework, give the youngster some “homework” to do alongside them.
Updated : 03/08/2017


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  • administrator : This is so true !

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