Higher Screen Time, Lower Vocabulary . . . and How about Social Skills?

Do movies made for infants and toddlers help them to learn language faster?

The “No” side has some heavy hitters.

“Despite marketing claims, parents who want to give their infants a boost in learning language probably should limit the amount of time they expose their children to DVDs and videos such as ‘Baby Einstein’ and ‘Brainy Baby,’ according to a 2007 University of Washington press release.

“The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Dr. Dimitri Christakis in a University of Washington study. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.”

“The results surprised us, but they make sense,” says Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

“There are only a fixed number of hours that young babies are awake and alert. If the ‘alert time’ is spent in front of DVDs and TV instead of with people speaking in ‘parentese’ — that melodic speech we use with little ones — the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience.”

Why would that be? Dr. Vic Strasburger, pediatrics professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, explains: “Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn. They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.”

Scary stuff!

Researcher Frederick Zimmerman calls screen time a major public health issue, with links to problems with inattention, aggressive behavior and poor mental development. In fact, the researchers found that an extra hour of daily television watching at the ages of one year and three years meant a ten percent higher probability of ADHD behaviours by the age of seven.

There’s more.

People with autism tend to have poor or no language skills, poor social skills, unusual repetitive behaviours and obsessive interests–and a University of Cornell study found that higher rates of autism appeared to be linked to higher rates of screen time.

The researchers suggest that “too much or certain types of early childhood television watching” could trigger development of autism in children who are already susceptible.

How about social skills?

The American Psychological Association reports on several studies in which some children watched a violent program and others watched a nonviolent one. Those in the first group were slower to intervene or call for help when they saw younger children fighting or breaking toys.

George Gerber Ph.D. of the University of Pennsylvania discovered that children’s television shows portray about 20 violent acts every hour.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Research demonstrates that children who are frequent viewers of violence on television are
less likely to show empathy toward the pain and suffering of others and more likely to behave aggressively.”

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