|Kill Your Television (by Vik Nanda)|
Children under age 2 should not watch television or videos because it could impair their development, according to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The new report also happens to reaffirm what they’ve been saying for the past decade.
However, this advice is routinely ignored by most parents. The report indicates that 90% of parents with children under 2 let their babies and toddlers watch some form of electronic media, with the average child watching one to two hours of TV or videos per day. Children with single mothers and low-income children watch more than this on average.
The report did not discuss any direct effects that television or videos might have on the developing brain. However, it did emphasize that watching TV takes children away from other healthier or more educational activities like unstructured playtime or bonding with their parents.
It should be no surprise that children in low income and single parent households are watching more television, as these parents tend to have more stressful and busier lives. Television is an easy way to keep a small child preoccupied while dinner is prepared and chores are done. It is also a convenient way to buy a little extra peace and quiet after a long day at work or while finishing a meal.
However, with the ubiquity of media players, even affluent families may be relying on videos more than in the past. SUV’s come equipped with DVD players to keep the kids amused on long trips (or short errands). Parents sometimes allow their small children to play with ipads in waiting rooms. Small, toddler-friendly portable DVD players are used by parents to sneak in an extra hour of sleep on weekends.
Another factor contributing to the misuse of media with babies and toddlers is ignorance and misinformation. According to the AAP report, while many video programs for infants and toddlers claim to be “educational,” the evidence does not support this claim for children under the age of 2. Also, some parents do not realize how important unstructured play time is for children to learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills, or that they learn more from interacting with live humans than from screens.
Unstructured play time does not require expensive toys. In fact, young children like to play with almost anything they can get their hands on, especially if they see their parents using it. Between the ages of one and two, my son loved to play with cooking utensils while we prepared dinner, including measuring cups and spoons. He is now four and I am still amazed at how much he can amuse himself with common household items during unstructured playtime. Of course he loves his Buzz Lightyear doll and his DVDs, but what he enjoys more than anything is constructing pretend machines, tools, vehicles, robots and guns from nuts and bolts, rubber bands, wooden chopsticks, ropes, tinker toys, wires and whatever else he can find lying around the house.
While he can keep himself entertained like this for extended periods of time (occasionally for as long as an hour), he enjoys it even more if I get involved. And I have to say that as busy or tired as I may be, it truly is the most peaceful and enjoyable part of my day to participate in his make believe world, as villain, hero or coconspirator. It pulls me away from my own worries and stresses far better than any movie or television show possibly can and brings me back, even if only fleetingly so, to a carefree time in my own life when anything was possible.