For those of you — like me! — who feel a pang of guilt every time an expert comes along to poo-poo television for young children, here is a small piece of welcoming news. At least to Deborah Linebarger, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, some programming in moderation can aid children’s language development, according to a story in Newsweek.
Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero television for children under the age of two — and another expert quoted by Newsweek echoed that — Linebarger said she has allowed all her children to watch television from the time they were babies and offered some guidelines of her own:
Ages 0 to 2…Last year (Dr. Dimitri) Christakis, (a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and co-author of “The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids”), coauthored a study that found a correlation between baby video and DVD viewing and poor language development in babies ages 8 to 16 months. But Linebarger says to follow your kid’s cues. If your child seems interested in TV, an 11-to-12-minute episode of a commercial-free show like Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues” or PBS’s “Arthur” is unlikely to do harm and could help him learn new words. Preliminary research by Rebekah Richert, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, shows that babies as young as 18 months are capable of learning new words from DVDs like Baby Einstein’s “Baby Wordsworth” as long as “parents direct their children’s attention to the screen and label particular words.”
Ages 2 to 5. In Linebarger’s research, watching such programs as Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer” and “Blue’s Clues” and PBS’s “Arthur,” “Clifford” and “Dragon Tales” was linked with increased vocabulary in kids ages 6 months to 2 ½ years, while such shows as PBS’s “Teletubbies” were linked with decreased vocabulary. Choose programs with a linear plotline, as opposed to a variety-show format, because they’re easier for toddlers to follow.
Ages 6 to 10. “There’s not as much programming for kids once they start school that’s of high quality,” says Christakis. But kids in this age group are not yet ready for prime-time TV, and parents will need to hunt around for more-appropriate content. Prescreen as much as possible to make sure the show you’re watching is teaching your child the same values you are, and check review sites like parentschoice.org or commonsensemedia.org. Linebarger also recommends documentary-style shows on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a new organization dedicated to improving the educational content of digital media, says to limit screen time to one hour per day, discuss TV shows and games with your kids after they’ve viewed them, and read daily with them for at least 20 minutes. As with nutrition, a healthy media diet is all about balance.
I agree that balance is in order, especially in our fast-paced and media-saturated environment. I know I cannot adhere to a “no-TV” rule. But unlike Linebarger’s justification for babies watching television, my gut tells me it is best to limit it as you would sugar in your diet.