Like it or not, the last five years have seen an explosion of media aimed at infants and very young children. In the guise of education, parents are utilizing the electronic babysitter – TV, video, computer – from birth on.
Is this good, bad or indifferent? I’d say the best gauge is what happens when you turn it off. Are you and your child(ren) at a momentary loss for something to do? Does the child become irritable when disconnected? Does your child talk to the box? Is your child more animated interacting with people or with animation? Are you?
- In the last five years, there has been an explosion in electronic media for babies and toddlers: “Teletubbies,” the first television show for preverbal children; computer “lapware” for babies to play with while sitting in a parent’s lap; and hundreds of videotapes and DVD’s for even the tiniest infants.
Many babies are now immersed in electronic media for hours every day. In fact, more than a quarter of children under 2 have a television in their room, according to a large study of young children’s media habits that was issued yesterday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
On a typical day, the study found, 59 percent of children 6 months to 2 years watch television, and 42 percent watch a videotape or a DVD. The median time they spend watching some form of media or another on the screen is slightly more than two hours.
“The last time we did a big study on kids and media, about five years ago, we didn’t think to go younger than 2, because we didn’t think there was anything there,” said the new report’s lead author, Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Foundation. “But that’s really changed. And based on what we’ve now found with the 6-month-to-2-year-olds, if we do this kind of study again, we’d probably go down to birth.”
According to the study, 10 percent of the babies and toddlers from 6 months to 2 years have a television remote control designed for children. And 32 percent have videos from the “Baby Einstein” series, created seven years ago as a way of exposing infants to poetry, language, music and art. “Baby Einstein” is now a Disney line that includes books, flashcards and puppets, along with DVD’s and videotapes whose titles have expanded to include, among others, “Baby Shakespeare,” “Baby Galileo” and “Baby Newton.” [NY Times]
Aka: “Baby Ignore Me.”
- There is little consensus about precisely how electronic media affect young children, and little data on which to base any conclusions.
“We know the first two years are a crucial developmental period, but at this point we don’t have a clue about the impact of all this media,” Ms. Rideout said. “The Nielsen ratings don’t even count kids under 2, so there’s no commercial ratings available. We’re hoping this study provides some base-line data.”
The Kaiser study was based on a nationally representative telephone survey conducted last spring among 1,065 parents with children 6 months to 6 years old. The study, whose margin of sampling error was plus or minus three percentage points, found that more than a third of all such children had a television in their bedroom and that those who did spent more time watching than those who did not.
According to the parents’ own reports, more than a third live in homes where the television is on almost all the time, even if no one is watching. And children in such homes are much less likely than others to be able to read at ages 4 to 6, though the authors emphasized that the relationship was not necessarily causal.
But it is among the babies and toddlers that the most startling picture emerges. “We’ve got a mom in the office whose 2-year-old daughter has a special computer table, and she’s got her games and her activities and her bookmarked Web sites,” Ms. Rideout said. “It’s a new phenomenon to have little kids spend this kind of time with the media, and while we don’t know what it does, I think there are some red flags.”
….”I think the academy was trying to help parents understand that in the very early years of life, what babies and toddlers need most is adults,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director of Zero to Three, a national center for infants, toddlers and families. “We’re programmed, as human beings, to learn through interpersonal relationships.”
Many parents say that they understand that large doses of television are not good for babies and toddlers, and that when these children do watch, it is better to watch with them. But as a real-world matter, parents say, the only time they put the DVD in is when they need a respite from child care.
And that is really what this is all about isn’t it?