Friday, January 3, 2014

Television for babies: Friend or Foe?

Prior to becoming a parent, I really liked "educational videos" for babies such as the baby Einstein DVDs shown above. I thought they provided such a sweet, cute and clever way to stimulate the minds of little ones and I made a mental note to remember to buy these when I had a child of my own. But during my pregnancy a coworker warned me to stay away from them and told me they really weren't as good for babies as advertised. I really didn't want to believe this because everyone had told me that baby dvd's were the best thing since sliced bread.  I decided not to worry about it too much because it didn't seem to be a big deal at that time.

Once my daughter was born, her pediatrician reiterated the same advice from my coworker that all forms of screen time should be avoided as much as possible before the age of one. She went further to state that even between the ages of one to two, TV time should be still be avoided or kept at a very low minimum where possible. My daughter was very interested in the television from as early as 6 weeks, she would strain her neck to watch it even if I faced her away from the screen. I really couldn't see what the big deal was about her watching it so I asked her doctor a lot of questions,  did a lot of research and also intently monitored my daughter when she was exposed to the television and these are the conclusions I came to;

Infants learn from interaction. This means that we need to sing, talk and play with them directly to teach them  anything we want them to learn. Simply placing them in front of a television at that early age doesn't provide them with any interaction or any education at all. They are too young at that stage to be able to grasp anything meaningful from the the fast paced activity on  TV. To make matters worse, usually when the TV is on,  parents will talk significantly less to the baby than they would if the TV wasn't on which means less interaction with the infant and less learning.

Zombie mode syndrome. Television for young babies and toddlers induces what I like to call the zombie mode. Every time my infant daughter would get a glimpse of the TV she would instantly fall into a 'tv coma' staring at the screen with glazed eyes and mouth open. It's almost as though she was in so much awe of the moving pictures she could hardly remember to blink, or even breathe.

Fast moving scene sequences actually confuse and unsettle young babies  and have been thought to be linked to attention deficit issues later in life. This is quiet logical, because the babies get used to the fast past movement on the screen and expect everything else to be the same. They end up losing interest in anything that isn't as "fun" as TV.  Excessive use of televisions, tablets and cellphones for young babies can also delay speech,  hinder vocabulary expansion and negatively impact social interaction.

Television dulls imagination. All the baby DVDs that are geared towards infants,  really only do one thing; they entertain the child. They capture their attention and keep them glued to the screen with bright colors, and fun music. However they also dull their minds because the baby need not do anything but stare at the screen. They don't have to lift a finger. This keeps them thinking inside the box of whatever is on the screen. A child would be better off playing with a blank piece of paper because they are encouraged to fully use their imagination and think as an individual.

For the most part, I agreed with and understood all the information against television for infants and young toddlers, although I'll be the first to admit it's not always practical. Whilst my daughter was still an infant, we would always face her away from the television when possible or turn if it off until she was asleep. Now that she is 20 months old we do let her watch Sesame Street, especially when I need to distract her whilst I am braiding her hair.  Although it has it's flaws, I like Sesame Street a lot. I used to watch is as a child and even though it has changed a lot since the days when I used to watch it, I really think it's still one of the best shows for children out there.We try to make it an interactive learning experience by talking back to the characters, singing, dancing and counting along with them.  As she gets older I hope we can continue to limit her screen time and keep it fun, educational and interactive.

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