Toddlers and TV: Some disagree with claims tots shouldn’t tune inFARGO - Though America’s pediatricians advise no television time for children under age 2, toddlers are tuning in.
By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM, Worthington Daily Globe
FARGO - Though America’s pediatricians advise no television time for children under age 2, toddlers are tuning in.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study found 74 percent of all infants and toddlers have watched television before age 2, and 43 percent watch TV daily.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says toddlers need direct interaction with parents and caregivers for healthy brain growth and social development, something television doesn’t provide.
But with more and more TV programs and DVDs targeted at toddlers, parents are placing their tots in front of the tube, perhaps for some parenting downtime or because they think it’s beneficial.
Some parenting experts disagree with the AAP’s definitive stance. Others abide by it. But both sides offer suggestions for parents who let their youngsters watch television.
For more than 10 years, the AAP has recommended no screen time for children under 2. It also advises a maximum of two hours a day of quality programming for older children.
“Under age 2, talking, singing, reading, listening to music or playing are far more important to a child’s development than any TV shows,” the AAP states in a public service announcement script.
Television could negatively affect cognitive and emotional development, the AAP says. Some studies suggest language learning can be delayed in young children who watch television. Television usage is also linked to obesity.
“I do agree with the AAP,” says Kim Bushaw, director of Early Childhood Family Education in Moorhead. “A child under 2 is just as impressed with the Cheerio that rolled under the couch as a DVD, and they learn far more problem solving trying to get the Cheerio under the couch.”
Kids may pick up a fact or two from television, she says, but learning happens when they’re interacting with their parents, such as in the kitchen or helping with daily chores.
Parents have a need for downtime, but Bushaw points out that parents a generation or two ago were able to obtain that respite without electronic media.
She believes the key is engaging kids with toys that require imagination, like dress-up clothes, puppets or Legos.
Rebecca Woods, an assistant professor in Human Development and Family Science at North Dakota State University, says there’s enough research to show that television can be disadvantageous for cognitive and emotional development in children under 2.
“My personal stance on this is, generally speaking, avoid DVDs as much as possible,” Woods says. “Even ‘Baby Einstein’ DVDs that are supposed to enhance cognition in children, really don’t.”
In fact, the Walt Disney Co. announced in October that it would offer a full refund for “Baby Einstein” DVDs purchased between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009. The refund is said to be a settlement to avoid a class-action lawsuit for claiming the videos were educational and beneficial.
A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescents in December found that most DVDs for young children are poorly designed, because they are rapidly paced and feature little singing and rhyming.
But Woods, a mother of three, understands the TV/toddler issue from a parent’s perspective. And as a professor who occasionally lectures about child abuse, she sees television as a far better alternative than a worst-case scenario.
“Moms need to take care of themselves, too, and dads,” she says. If a parent is without a social support network, “sitting your child in front of the TV for 15 minutes so you can get calm time for yourself is not such a bad thing.”
‘Every family is different’
Trude Hendrickson, a family therapist with the Village Family Service Center in Fargo, says the AAP’s stance of no television for children under 2 is “really a shame.”
“Every family is different and families need to go by what’s best for them and works for them,” Hendrickson says.
Any programs toddlers watch need to be age-appropriate, and children shouldn’t spend hours in front of a TV, she says.
“It can’t be the all for everything, but I think it can be a tool in your toolbox,” she says. “If watching ‘Little Einsteins’ or Big Bird and Ernie is going to help make your kid calm down and feel better, (I’m) not sure that there’s a major problem with that.”
Marie Offutt, communications manager with Prairie Public Broadcasting in Fargo, says PBS believes the quality of the programming is important, which is why its shows, such as “Sesame Street,” use standards-based content – meaning it’s based on sound educational research.
“We believe kids really do learn from video,” she says. “Just watching kids watch television, you know they’re engaged, so give them high-quality programs to watch.”
Co-viewing, or parents watching programs with their children, is also important, Offutt says.
In the Kaiser study, of those infants and toddlers who watch TV every day,
88 percent of parents say they are in the same room as the child while they watch TV either all of most of the time.
Sean Brotherson, family science specialist with NDSU Extension Service, is respectful of the AAP’s guidelines. At the same time, he says he realizes there are plenty of parents wondering if some TV is OK.
“I don’t think an occasional episode for an hour here or there is going to be particularly detrimental,” he says.
But, Brotherson worries about an extensive daily diet of television.
Just like you wouldn’t feed a child a diet of all sugar, their social and educational diet can’t be all TV.
“I’m not so much an advocate of saying never have any exposure to TV, but be selective about their exposure and be thoughtful about the things for them to learn from that medium.”
Liz Jost, a Fargo mom, believes the no-TV-under-2 stance takes things too far.
Jost’s daughter started watching television when she was about a year old. It was earlier for her sons, including 7-month-old Adam.
“The benefit of having one, you get to control everything,” she says. “The second one, not so much. They … watch TV sooner because they watch with the first one.”
But Jost makes sure the programs they watch are educational. “We only have the most basic cable so we don’t get Disney or Nickelodeon, so we pretty much only watch PBS with the kids,” she says.
And the only DVDs within the kids’ reach are ones she’s approved.
Besides monitoring content, Jost limits the amount of time they watch. “I know that they’re not sitting in front of the TV all day wasting their brains.”
Jost wrote a post on her Blogspot blog about how she advised a young mom, frustrated by the constant entertainment demands of her 2-year-old son, to let him watch TV.
“We just tend to put too much weight on some things. Are your kids really going to be screwed up if they watch ‘Sesame Street’ every day?” she says.