Sunday, April 29, 2007

TV is bad for toddlers?

Psychologist Aric Sigman claims that 90 minutes of television watching per day for children under three might increase their risk of attention-deficit disorder, autism and obesity. He suggests that young children who watch a lot of television may not be able to sustain attention, and may fail to acquire language and social skills within the ‘window’ of the brain’s maximum plasticity. He suggests that television watching causes irregular sleep patterns and alters metabolic rate. He believes the government should issue rationing guidelines, advising that children under three should watch no television at all, and three to seven year olds should watch 30 minutes to an hour each day (a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said the government has no plans to issue such guidelines).

But his ideas haven’t been greeted with universal admiration. As Thomas Sutcliffe writes in the Independent, it’s not so much a question of how much children watch, but what they watch, and the best of children’s television is catered to children’s interests and needs.

There are some wonderful television shows and DVDs which demand action by children and probably parents too – who could watch the Wiggles without dancing and singing along? What better way to learn the alphabet than with Elmo’s gentle guidance? How many parents have tried trickle painting or made crazy icecream sundaes with their children after watching Teletubbies?

As for Sigman’s language anxiety – there must be thousands of families who have seen their children’s language expand exponentially as they learn words and phrases from their favourite shows. Or seen them gradually learning social conventions from examples on screen and then apply them with growing confidence in every day life. It seems strange to me that Aric Sigman is worried about children not having any attention span… because they are paying too much attention to the television! Me, I say embrace the learning and entertainment possibilities that televisual entertainment – particularly DVDs – offers to children.


Maddy said...

It is a shame that television is considered to be the 'new' destruction of 'life as we know it' mantra.
Best wishes

emma said...

Thank you for your comment!

Yes, isn't it a shame? Someone was reminding me recently that the it-will-suck-the-life-out-of-your-children mantra was, before the advent of television, generally associated with the evil peril of... you guessed it... BOOKS!!!

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this one.

Quoting Sutcliffe:

"The other error (received opinion might be a better description) is the widespread assumption that television is necessarily worse than whatever it replaces."

Couldn't the same be said of nurseries and even care homes? If parents are bad, that doesn't mean the alternative would be better than good parents.

Only good parents can make for good TV viewing. While watching TV, children certainly benefit from having things explained or having a parent willing to answer their questions.

Television can cause problems because it can take time from learning other skills that require true human interaction and true exploration of the real 3D world.

Good parents would be thinking of interesting places, people, objects and game play for their toddlers.

emma said...

"Only good parents can make for good TV viewing." I agree. Because someone needs to be switched on enough to pick up the quotes and say the next line back, otherwise conversation doesn't build. Or switched on enough to try out the craft ideas from teletubbies, or whatever it is.

But care homes - no I don't agree. I've been reading old John Bowlby on "Childcare and the growth of love" and while I think he's way off about day care (conclusions not supported by evidence - he may be correct that it's a bad thing but not for the reasons he uses), the evidence about children actually in care homes or otherwise not with the parents is pretty overwhelmingly saying that it damages the children in all sorts of ways. When I finish reading Bowlby, I'll write a proper review and then we can have a proper discussion about that... (Scheduling of criticism heh)