Thursday, March 5, 2009

TV Time for Babies

Recently, the topic of TV watching among babies has received quite a bit of media attention. On Tuesday, there was an interesting article in Time magazine about this. Although TV has been part of our lives for several decades now, surprisingly little research has considered the effects of TV watching on babies' development. The Time article discusses the handful of studies to examine this issue. One study followed over 800 children from birth to age 3 and recorded time spent watching TV (including DVDs) as reported by their moms. In the end, the study found that TV watching was associated with neither positive nor negative effects for babies' development (once factors like parents' education were accounted for).

Another recent study of babies' TV watching, however, found somewhat different results. In a study conducted at Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington, researchers found that for very young children (8-16 months), more than occasionally watching TV was associated with a slower development of language. For older toddlers (17-24 months), the study found neither positive nor negative associations with language development. This is somewhat surprising given the strong claims made by producers of TV and DVD programs designed for babies and marketed heavily to parents anxious to give their kids an educational advantage.

So with this conflicting research, what is a parent to do? Most researchers advise parents to carefully consider not only what types of programs your child watches, but for how long and why. Study author Dimitri Christakis stated in the Time article, "What I tell parent is 'Ask yourself why you're having your baby watch TV,' he continues, "If you absolutely need a break to take a shower or make dinner, then the risks are quite low. But if you are doing it because you think it's actually good for your child's brain, then you need to rethink that, because there is no evidence of benefit and certainly a risk of harm at high view levels."

More resources on TV watching for babies and children:

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