Video Smarts

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Many experts in child development acknowledge that it may be impossible -- or at the very least impractical -- to banish DVDs, videos and television from the lives of the very young, despite advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children younger than 2 should log no screen time. As media researcher Deborah Linebarger of the University of Pennsylvania has said, anyone who claims they don't use TV as a babysitter is either childless or lying.

Below are a few tips from experts for parents seeking to use electronic media wisely.

* Limit screen time. Fifteen minutes in front of most videos is unlikely to be harmful. An hour or more may be another matter. Studies have found that time spent staring at a screen can displace other activities vital to child development, such as creative play.

* Watch with your child and comment on what you're seeing. Saying to your baby, "Oh, look, there's a cat just like our cat," fosters interaction, which is central to learning in infancy.

* Do not assume your baby is learning anything. No program for children younger than 2 has demonstrated any educational or developmental benefit. Babies cannot understand or process what they see on a two-dimensional screen because their brains are not sufficiently mature until about age 3. Infants and toddlers learn by experiencing things in a 3-D world: banging pots on the kitchen floor, playing in a sandbox, arranging stuffed animals in creative play.

* Banish TV from your child's bedroom. Approximately one in five babies and toddlers has a set in the bedroom. Children who use the tube to fall asleep have more sleep problems than those who don't, studies have shown.

* Don't use the television as background noise. Researchers have found that even if it is not the main activity in a room, it detracts from play and is a distraction for adults, who talk less.

-- Sandra G. Boodman

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