Television and Young Children — Myths and Facts

The American Pediatric Association says no screens until a child is 2 years old. While this may be feasible with your first child, it becomes very difficult to keep a toddler away from the screen when an older child is watching television, especially when you’re cooking dinner!! The reality is many young children are exposed to screens from a very young age. The latest statistics indicate that young children in school not in child care spend anywhere from 1.6-2.4 hours a day watching TV. Are we creating a nation of unhealthy children? This article will take a look at some of the research to help parents understand what are the myths and facts about how screens affect early learning.

Can Children under 2 can learn language, shapes, colors from screens?

  • Many parents spend millions of dollars on high quality videos such as Baby Einstein. The evidence indicates that these videos do nothing to change children’s early learning and in fact can sometimes lead to learning decrements. A study done by Robb and colleagues (2009), examined if 12 and 15 month old toddlers exposed to a DVD highlighting words around the house learned more than children who did nothing special, just their normal routines. Even after watching the DVD up to 15 times, the toddlers who watched the DVDs learned nothing more than the children who hung around their caregiver. Another study by Zimmerman and Christakis found that for each hour that children watched a video to teach language, they learned 6-8 FEWER vocabulary words, compared to children who did not watch anything.
  • HOWEVER…. in another study (Richert et al, 2010), when parents sat with their child and watched a video with them, drawing their attention to some words, these children did learn from the DVD. Other studies bolster this finding, children whose parents label on screen images for them learn.

So in actuality, when TV is paired with a real life caregiver who attempts to provide context and scaffolding, learning can happen. The issue is when caregivers sit their children in front of screen and do not provide the most important learning environment of all – real life social interaction.

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