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This article was featured on Mother & Child Magazine in English and Arabic

Every parent has been in this position where you are tired, hungry, just came home from work and need to shower, make dinner or just take a break! Problem: Your baby is asking for entertainment. Solution: the TV!

A little amount of TV never hurt anyone. However, television has become the “virtual nanny” for many parents. Children eat, play or read while the TV is on. Often resulting in hours of television viewing,

What's the Problem?

The problem is that television viewing takes away from human interaction, which is how your baby is designed to learn and develop.  Actually the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV exposure for children under 2!. A recent study showed that every hour of TV that a child under 3 watches per day increases the chance of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis by 10%.This is most likely because of the fact that in those early years your child’s brain is still developing. The frontal lobes which are important for working memory and keeping things in mind are not yet fully developed, TV programs with changing scenes or those interrupted by commercials may seem like separate scenes with no coherent link to your child.

Remember the huge Baby Einstein and “educational videos” craze? Well, in reality there is no scientific research to back up that these videos benefited children at all! On the contrary research has shown that exposure to such “baby videos” among infants 8-16 months was strongly associated with lower scores on standard language development test. While on toddlers ages 17-24 months no significant effects, either positive or negative, were noticeable.

It’s worth mentioning that in 2009 the Walt Disney Company offered refunds to parents for all those “Baby Einstein” videos that didn’t make their children smarter!

However, reading to your child daily and storytelling were found to be associated with somewhat higher language scores for toddlers. Young children need human interaction for learning. This coincides with Dr. Kuhl’s findings on language development in a very interesting experiment showing that babies lean language sounds from a person not a video recording of a person. In the experiment she exposed babies to a person reading a story in Mandarin or the baby would listen to a tape recording of a person reading the books.  A third option was watching a video of a person reading a story in Mandarin.

The results? The babies only learned the Mandarin sounds from the live person!

So,What Can You Do?
  • Read stories and sing songs with your baby. This well help develop your child’s language and attention span. As well as being a first step to literacy.
  • Use an activity center with your infant. Exploring, pushing buttons, grasping and pulling objects will help develop your baby’s cognitive skills, fine and gross motor skills, understand cause and effect and just have fun.
  • If your child is a fussy eater, try feeding her during meal time. Seeing Mom and Dad sitting and eating at the table may influence her eating habits.
  • Have your toddler play with some Tupperware while you are in the kitchen. This activity helps foster spatial visualization ability by placing objects inside each other and fine and gross motor skills when grasping objects and putting the lid on and off.
  • Involve your toddler or preschooler in everyday household activities. While cooking your child can peel an onion for you or help you pour. If you are going shopping he can help point out where items on the list are on the shelves. There are so many options! Remember that what you do in a few minutes can be endlessly entertaining and a fun learning experience for your child.

I have to say that not all TV watching is bad. There are wonderful shows that do have an educational aspect to them.

How to Choose an Appropriate TV Show?
  • First, monitor what your child is exposed to. Avoid shows with violence or upsetting scenes. Research has shown that children who are exposed to TV violence may become numb to it and gradually accept it as a way to solve problems.
  • For very young children below 3, choose shows that don’t have too  many changing scenes or a cluttered background. A show were there is a static background and a main character talking directly to your child about objects that pop out onto the screen clearly is a good option. This format helps your child stay focused on the character and can understand clearly that when she hears the word “banana” and sees a picture of a banana on the screen that these two are related.
How to Watch TV with Your Child?
  • Television watching can be an active experience not just a passive one. Watch programs together and encourage your child to sing and dance along with the characters on the show.
  • Ask your child about what’s going on ? what does he thinks will happen next? point out new objects. This well help turn TV watching into a shared activity and is an opportunity for your child to learn new words.
  • Use new and funny words that you learnt while watching TV. “Supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus” from the movie Mary Poppins comes to mind 🙂
  • After television, come up with activities like drawing or outings around things seen in the show.

I hope this gives a new perspective to the use of television with your children 🙂