Sorry for the Sinatra (or Sid Vicious, based on your musical tastes) reference, but ever since this weekend, I have carried with me a great sense of regret.

After our boy got his very first bath in the kitchen sink, I sat him down on my lap and watched some classic 1940s Donald Duck cartoons. Even my previous blog post was about cartoon watching, discussing wanting to watch Inspector Gadget with him, only to be disappointed it was no longer on Netflix.

Fate works in mysterious ways, and it’s a good thing it’s not on Netflix, because I have, since that day, deeply regretted exposing my little boy, just three weeks old, to television. I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling inside me that what I was doing was more for myself than for he, and was nothing but detrimental to his development. “What was I thinking?” I keep asking myself. I fear I’ve made a big mistake, and truly hope that there is still time to make sure he is not negatively effected by this weekend’s couch-potato activity.

I’ve done a bit of reading since the tinge of regret has slipped in, and have come across a great deal of work by Dimitri Christakis of Children’s Hospital in Seattle and how babies can be harmed by watching television and video. Here’s some information on Christakis’ studies from the website www.raisesmartkid.com

According to studies by Christakis, the first 2 years of a child’s life is a critical time for their brain development and watching television takes time away from a child exploring, interacting and playing with parents and other, as well as actively learning by manipulating things around him. These are activities that help your kid develop the skills they need to grow intellectually, socially and emotionally.

A lot more notes on the negative effects of television on child development:

  • When your kid plays, he is actively learning about how the world works.  He wires his brain by experimenting with cause and effect.   When your kid interacts with people, he meets his emotional milestones.   TV keeps your kid away from these activities.
  • The first 2 years of your kid is also a critical time for learning language.  Language is only learned through interaction with others, not by passive listening to TV.  If you not respond to your kid’s attempt to communicate, your kid could miss this important milestone.  Also, your kid will not learn to talk by listening to TV characters baby talk or talk down to him.  Your kid learns to talk by mimicking adult language.  He learns from the adults’ simplified but correctly pronounced speech.
  • Note that when your baby smiles at the TV, the TV does not smile back.  This may affect him socially and psychologically.

Researchers have found that over the last 20 years, an increasing number of 9-month-old children are having trouble paying attention to voices when there is also background noise coming from the TV.  This may affect their paying attention in class when they go to school.

Also, when kids who watch TV go to school, they have to make a change from being primarily visual learners to listening learners.  If a kid watches more TV than interact with the family, he will have a hard time making this transition, and his school learning will suffer.

Dr. Christakis has found that children who watched television as babies are more likely to have shorter attention spans, problem concentrating and impulsiveness by age 7. He also states that although Attention Deficit Disorder is genetic, TV can also trigger this condition because TV rewires the baby’s brain.  The still-developing brain adapts to TV’s fast pace and overstimulation.

Also, in his study, Christakis found that children who watched TV as babies are less able to recognize letters and numbers by the time they go to school.  A 2005 University of Pennsylvania study found that watching Sesame Street before age 3 delayed a child’s ability to develop language skills.  This may be because babies are wired to be active and not passive learners.

  • Many TV shows and videos geared to kids are actually teaching them the wrong things.  They distort reality with their cartoonish and unnatural depiction of the world.  Also, the pacing of these shows is fast and teaches the baby’s sponge-like brain to always expect fast-paced input.  The real world, as they will soon find out, is much more boring and requires patience to adapt to.
  • Many other studies have found that long-term exposure to television diminishes children’s ability to communicate via reading and writing.   It can also lead to attention and learning problems in the long term.

In 2008, France’s broadcast authority has banned French channels from airing TV shows aimed at children under three years old. The High Audiovisual Council of France have found out that “Television viewing hurts the development of children under three years old and poses a certain number of risks, encouraging passivity, slow language acquisition, over-excitedness, troubles with sleep and concentration as well as dependence on screens.”

There are tips that are suggested regarding babies and TV watching:

  • Child experts agree that children under 2 should not watch any TV at all – and this also includes videos, computers and video games.
  • If you have to do work that requires concentration and you cannot multitask, do it at a time when your baby is napping.  If this cannot be avoided, let your kid play with toys on the floor or in the playpen instead.  Arrange a caregiver who interacts with your child if your child craves for human companion (which he naturally does).
  • Interact with your child as much as possible.  He needs this to build his brain.  Respond to his smile, speech and actions.   Entertain, recite rhymes, and sing to him in an engaging way.  No show on TV can beat what you have to offer.  Your voice, touch, smell, and your reaction to things he does are what he craves.  Don’t let your baby be passive.
  • Do not expect that you can use TV and video to tutor your child or will have any positive effect on his brain.  At best, it should be a means for you to take a half-hour break from interacting with your child in a way that will help him developmentally.
  • If your baby has to watch TV, watch with him, and make watching an interactive event.  Reinforce what he sees on TV by talking or singing to him.

I’ve got a lot to learn about the dos and dont’s of parenthood, I fully admit that. However, I hope that I can take these feelings of regret of what I perhaps SHOULDN’T have done, learn from it, and educate myself as to what I CAN do to make sure my little guy becomes the magical child he can, and can live up to all his wonderful potential.

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