Parents, experts put limit on children's TV time
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, October 08, 2012
10/08/12 at 4:08 AM
When Nicole Nascenzi's daughter was born, she and her husband made a commitment to be "TV-free" for two years.
Nascenzi came to that decision after doing some research and reading up on child-development issues.
"My reading has led me to believe that watching TV helps wire their brains in a way that you may not want them wired," said Nascenzi, referring to some studies that suggest watching TV at a young age is related to attention and memory problems.
Donald Hamilton, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the OU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa, said recent studies do make correlations between TV-watching at a young age and problems with attention or short-term memory.
But he said the biggest reasons behind the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children younger than 2 not watch TV is what it deprives them of. TV limits the opportunities for young children to learn from family interaction and playing.
"Children learn by doing, and TV keeps you from doing things," Hamilton said.
TV and videos only develop the visual part of the brain," he said. "In the first 2 to 3 years of life, the more connections your brain makes, the more it facilitates learning."
The simple act of playing with a ball can be more beneficial for a young child's development than watching even educational TV programs.
"A toddler that is doing something, like playing with a ball, is looking at it, handling it, making it move," Hamilton said. "They're involving a lot more areas of their brains, which is important for development."
Studies have also shown that having the television on, even if no one is watching, decreases the amount of talking in a household, Hamilton said.
"Young children learn by watching adults talk," he said. "If, suddenly, there is a decrease in the amount of talking, that can have a profound effect on a child's language development."
That is the reason that the commitment Nascenzi and her husband made also includes them not watching TV when in their daughter's presence.
"It helps us be more present as parents," she said.
Her daughter is now 21 months, just shy of the 2-year mark. Recently, Nascenzi has allowed her to watch short, 5- or 10-minute clips of PBS shows on her iPad, but only occasionally.
"It's amazing, it totally transfixes her," Nascenzi said. "It's made me glad that I committed to being TV-free. It really does take a lot of their attention."
Joanna Shadlow, a TU psychology professor, said ultimately, the no-TV recommendation stems from the fact that there is no evidence yet to support that there is any benefit of TV for kids younger than 2.
"You have to be able to pay attention and understand content to be able to benefit from a message," she said. "Under the age of 2, you don't have that ability yet cognitively."
But Leah Harper, whose daughter is nearly 3, said she thinks there are things that children can pick up from TV when they are young.
Her daughter, Natalie, began watching TV when she was about 18 months. Although Natalie wasn't absorbing any of the programs' lessons, she was picking up motor skills.
"She was clapping to the beat of the music and doing the dances that she sees characters do on TV," Harper said.
As she's gotten older, Natalie has begun paying closer attention to the messages from her programs, which she watches for about an hour each day. For example, she was able to tell her mother what she was expecting at an upcoming dentist appointment after watching an episode that centered on that topic.
"Their minds are little sponges," Harper said. "They do take in a lot of content that I might not even realize."
Which is why Harper said she is selective about what her daughter watches.
She tries to avoid channels that air product commercials between their programs, and she also is careful about the type of adult programming that she and her husband watch while Natalie is in the room.
Hamilton and Shadlow agree that parent selectivity is important once children begin watching TV.
Shadlow said evidence suggests that educational programs, such as "Sesame Street" or "Dora the Explorer," are beneficial for children. These shows send pro-social messages that kids can learn from, featuring lessons about friendship and healthy lifestyles. These shows also help kids learn academic skills, such as reading and counting.
On the other hand, evidence also suggests that entertainment TV for kids, which includes shows that have no direct educational aspect and often portray aggressive or violent behavior (Shadlow mentioned "Power Rangers" or "The Powerpuff Girls" as examples), can be linked to higher aggression and lower school grades.
Hamilton said "interactive TV watching," when parents watch with their children and talk about the content, is the most beneficial way to watch TV. This allows TV to be used as a learning tool, rather than just as a means for entertainment or as a baby sitter.
Rogers State University's RSU-TV and Oklahoma's PBS network OETA offer children's programming. Representatives of both networks said the programs they air have to be educational and engaging.
Most of their programming targets 2- to 8-year-olds, and much of it, especially their preschool programs, offers educational material that helps children with such cognitive skills as reading and math.
Dan Schiedel, general manager for RSU Public Television, said he thinks what children see on television influences them.
"It goes into their mind, it goes into their heart and they do retain it," he said. "Children's minds are so impressionable."
That is why the programs his channel airs seek to instill good qualities and virtues in the children who watch.
But while Schiedel said TV can benefit children, he agrees that parents should limit the amount of time kids spend watching it. Moderation is the key.
"Good doses of good stuff create good things," he said.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that good dose is no more than one to two hours per day for children ages 2 and older.
Original Print Headline: TV Limits
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Natalie Harper, 2, watches Bubble Guppies on Nick Jr. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Natalie Harper, 2, watches Bubble Guppies on Nick Jr., on Thursday. Natalie's mother, Leah Harper, says she is selective in what her daughter watches. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World