Thursday, March 5, 2009

TV Won't Make Your Baby an Einstein

Today, CNN reports that this week the journal Pediatrics has released a study that disproves claims that television and so-called educational DVDs can actually make children smarter.

Experts from Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston conducted the study, which monitored more than 800 children from birth to age 3. The authors of this study wrote: "Contrary to parents' perceptions that TV viewing is beneficial to their children's brain development, we found no evidence of cognitive benefit from watching TV during the first two years of life." (Emphasis added)

This is not the first study to come to this conclusion, and it will likely not be the last. The American Academy of Pediatrics has, for years, recommended no screen media for children under the age of 2. While the children's health community maintains nuanced opinions on whether or not watching television is actually harmful to children, they remain in steadfast agreement that watching television or DVDs--no matter how educational the marketers would have you believe the product is--offers no benefit to children whatsoever. Indeed, pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich, one of the authors of this most recent study and the Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital , points out that these media forms actually "steal time from much more productive cognitive developmental activities."

Rich, goes on to caution that regular time in front of screen media actually "teach[es] 4-or 5-or 6-month-olds how to watch TV." He points out that this early encouragement of sedentary behavior, coupled with prolonged and repeated exposure to commercials that market unhealthy snack foods, are predictors of childhood obesity, just one of the issues many experts link to early and over-exposure to television.

While this study is not an indictment of parents who mindfully use television to occasionally occupy a child, it should be taken as a call to awareness. So much of our lives revolve around screens--our computers, televisions and other media--that we don't always realize how much time and credence we give to the unending flow of images and ideas inundating our minds. And we often forget that these images and ideas ultimately emanate from people who want to sell us something.

Other resources highlighting the intersection of childhood and television:

The American Academy of Pediatrics Smart Guide to Kids' TV
Dr. Spock
NeuroPsychiatry Review
Unplug Your Kids

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