It is no understatement to say that young childrens’ brains are different to yours and mine. The synaptic plasticity that is necessary for a growing mind, one that needs to take in and assimilate a host of bewildering sensory information, is obviously going to differ from an established brain.
One of the major evolutionary tradeoffs of our species has been the lengthened period of infantilism necessary for greater intelligence. If your needs aren’t that great in the brain stakes, but it’s important to be able to fend for yourself soon after birth, then a smallish brain will do fine. Us higher primates have loftier goals, though, and since birth canals tend to be the limiting factor on brain size at birth, they keep developing for quite some time out of the womb. Young children are constantly processing new data from the world that they perceive, and the way that happens can have long-lasting effects on their later development.
The household environment in the world we find ourselves living in today is notably different to how it was even three decades ago when I was a toddler. The proliferation of televisions and DVD players has led to a massive increase in the amount of “virtual parenting,” or babysitting by TV. Children are plunked down in front of a screen and pacified with a steady stream of brightly-colored moving images that are not always processed in the same way as real-life visual stimuli. There is even a growing market in so-called educational DVDs for babies, which promise (in the absence of clinical data) to give childrens’ brains a jump start in life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) originally issued guidelines on the how often young children ought to be watching TV, suggesting that children over the age of two watch no more than two hours a day and children under that age watch no TV at all. Until now, there has been a lack of good data on just how much TV US children really are exposed to. That’s changed following the publication of survey data in the journal Pediatrics, and the results are a little startling.
The data show that children these days are growing up in a televisual world. As many as 18 percent of children aged two and under have TVs in their rooms, despite the AAP’s guidelines, and around 40 percent of children between ages three and six have their own TVs. The most common explanations were that these TVs allowed the rest of the family to watch their own choices of programming, and that it was a good way to keep young children occupied.
Rates of use were also sky-high: 63 percent of children under two watched TV every day, again contrary to AAP recommendations. Daily TV use amongst children aged three to six was around 80 percent. The high number of hours in front of the tube come ate the expense of more traditional interactions, as parents spent less than an hour a day reading to children or playing outside with them, both activities that are much better for the development of young minds. Neither family income, ethnicity, nor parental education levels had any effect on TV usage amongst young children.
Chillingly, there is growing evidence that such high levels of TV watching in young children is associated with poor performance at school, poor fitness, and poor social skills. One has to wonder if the increasing numbers of psychological maladies being identified amongst our young might be in part due to parental abdication in favor of a cathode ray baby sitter?
TV use sky high amongst the under-sixes
The one thing I WANTED a stat on (in bold) has no stats, nor leads to more stats. Makes me wonder – does the author really know these people in the process of writing articles, or are they just guessing.
The MacArthur Foundation is pouring a bunch of money into researching Digital Media & Learning of late. And I just saw that they have a link to the Webcast on “Do Video Games hep Children Learn?” – but not sure if there is an archive or transcript. I know a few people who went to this talk and said it was quite good.
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