Babies are born with 100 billion (yes, that’s right – a 1 followed by nine zeros) brain cells. Only about 17 per cent of them are operational at birth. The remainder grow, develop, and become operational in the days, weeks, months, and years following. Whatever is not established by genetics at birth comes from experience and exposure in daily living. A recent study, however, reveals genuine reasons for concern that some of those experiences in the very early months of life may not exactly be what the doctor ordered.
Heavy TV Viewing under 2 is found
Ignoring risks, parents cite ‘educational’ value
by Barbara F. Meltz, Globe Staff, May 27, 2007
About 40 percent of 3-month-olds ( my emphasis added) watch television or videos for an average of 45 minutes a day, or more than five hours a week, according to the first-ever study of the viewing habits of children under the age of 2.
The study, by pediatric researchers at the University of Washington, also found that by age 2, 90 percent of children are watching television for an average of more than 90 minutes a day.
Such early exposure to screens can have a negative impact on an infant’s rapidly developing brain and put children at a higher risk for attention problems, diminished reading comprehension, and obesity, researchers said.
The main reason so many parents are putting their very young children in front of the television?
No, it’s not to keep them quiet or to give them something to do. Rather it’s because the programs “teach something” or it’s “something good for his/her brain.” The vast majority of the parents involved in this study were more likely to be highly-educated and higher-income than the general US population. They’re putting their children in front of television and videos because they think it’s good for them – simple as that.
Some parents stick strictly to “educational” videos, such as the popular “Baby Einstein” series. Others wait for a while to introduce the television, although they admit with subsequent children they may not do the same thing. Many repeat the phrase: s/he seems to “really pay attention” to the television and/or videos.
However, according to Dimitri Christakas, the University of Washington pediatrician who co-authored the study, what parents think is the child paying attention is actually a survival instinct – “orienting”.
‘‘Yes, the baby is staring at the screen, but it’s wrong to think the child likes it,’’ said Christakas, the study’s co-author and himself the father of two young children. ‘‘He or she has no choice in the matter. He’s hard-wired to pay attention to anything that is fast-moving, brightly colored, or loud. It’s a survival response.’’ Christakas said he embarked on the study after being perplexed by the results of a 2003 Kaiser Foundation study that found that children under age 6 were spending up to two hours a day in front of a screen, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 watch no television at all.
Another quote from child psychologist David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, sent chills down my spine.
Early screen-viewing has a negative effect on soft-wiring even when the content is baby-safe, he said. ‘‘The question to ask isn’t, ‘What is she watching,’ but, ‘What else isn’t she doing?’’’ he said. ‘‘When there’s screen time at an early age, the brain is wired to respond to screens even before they crawl or say their first words. At a time when they need to be interacting with the environment and with real human beings, they are being conditioned to respond to a screen.’’
I urge all of my Kindermusik families to read this article in its entirety. I know that all of my families want what’s best for their children and this is an important consideration for your child. Follow the link to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines to read for yourself why they urge parents to keep an electronic media-free environment for the youngest in the family, at least until age 2.