A review of current research has been published by the London-based National Literacy Trust and by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Although several studies suggest age-appropriate programs can help preschoolers learn language, there have been far fewer studies focused on toddlers. There is some evidence that 18-month-olds will respond to the visuals of programs with words, especially if the content is of high quality. But other studies suggest children under the age of 22 months learn words less effectively from TV than from interactions with people.
Does TV viewing take the place of other activities, such as playing outside?
Not really, for children between the ages of six months and 3 years.
However, among four- to six-year-olds, who tend to have greater mobility and independence, there may be a connection. Heavy viewers in this age group spend an average of 30 minutes less per day playing outside and eight minutes less per day reading than children who are not heavy TV watchers. It is not clear why this happens. For example, children who watch more TV may do so because they are unable to go outside or it may be that they do not go outside because they are watching more TV.
Does it matter what very young children watch?
Programs that are well designed and take into consideration children's developmental stages are more likely to have educational merit than shows not geared toward their healthy growth.
Even more important than the content and construction of a show, however, is the role a caregiver can play. By watching with the child, a parent can find ways to interact during the viewing and take advantage of learning opportunities embedded in a program.
Does the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend against TV viewing for children under the age of 2?
In 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement about media and children. In it, the organization discussed the benefits media education can have as well as the health risks TV poses to children, especially those under the age of two. Specifically, the AAP said:
"Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers (eg, child care providers) for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged."
Has there been much research done on the effects of TV on infants and toddlers? Surprisingly little.
Over the last three decades many studies have focused on television and children, with a fair amount of emphasis on preschool-aged children. To date, infants and toddlers have received limited attention. This is starting to change given the big boom in programs and products directed at the very young - videos for infants, for example, have exploded in recent years-but a great deal more research is needed.
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