Young kids and TV: What not to watch

I was away from my computer for much of this past week, soaking up a few last days with my youngest before she begins her daily nursery school. Soaking, it turned out, would become our literal activity given the weather.


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A new study published online today has found that the kind of children’s television a child watches may have strong, lingering effects.

Published in the journal Pediatrics today, “The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function,” tested skills such as paying attention, problem solving and self-regulation among 4- year-olds after they watched one of two cartoons for nine minutes.

Researchers compared the cartoon-watchers against each other and with a control group of children who instead spent the time drawing with crayons and markers.

“The children who watched a fast-paced cartoon featuring an animated kitchen sponge did significantly worse on tests than the drawing group. There was no difference between the drawing group and children who watched a slower-paced, realistic Public Broadcasting Service cartoon about a typical preschool boy,” according to the researchers.

This is praise-worthy research for more than its findings. It’s a report that acknowledges that children are, in fact, watching television. Too often, the advice from on high has been “No screen time” or “Limited screen time,” without much guidance on what might be best when that screen is on.

Excessive television-watching, of course, is a terrible habit for a parent to allow. There are obvious health and social side-effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time for children under age 2 and suggests limiting it from one to two hours daily for older children.

For the parents who understand this, the scolding tone on the issue has still scared us. It’s meant that many do not discuss whether or not they allow television lest they be labeled either a strict moralist or lax degenerate. That lack of discussion often prevents parents from trading advice or learning about good shows.

What would be helpful is more studies such as this one, ones that help parents better use technology. If that means throwing SpongeBob overboard, good riddance. He’ll probably fast-talk his way out of it anyway.

Do you have house rules on television for your children? What are they?

Read more

- The Checkup: SpongeBob’s effect on kids’ brains

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