A new report says that many Americans keep their TVs on as background noise at all?times ? and that such secondhand media could be harmful to young kids’ learning and?development.
TUESDAY, Oct. 18 ? You?d never bring your 2-year-old to an R-rated movie, let her?flip through a racy magazine, or plop her on the couch while you?re tuned in to The?Real Housewives of New Jersey.?But did you know that non-stop media consumption can be harmful to your child ??even if you think she?s not paying attention?According to a new policy statement?released today about media use in children under age 2, the American Academy of?Pediatrics (AAP) says many American families have a TV on in the house at least six?hours a day ? 39 percent of families with infants and young children confess that?the TV is on constantly even if it?s simply as background noise. More than 60 percent?of the time, children are in the room at least some of the time when parents are?watching TV, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study; 29 percent of children?are present all or most of the time.?Researchers call this secondhand media, and though it may sound harmless, the AAP?says that it can have a negative effect on young children. (The report also reiterates?1999 guidelines that recommend against direct TV watching ? even of so-called ?educational programming” ? for kids under age 2 because of a lack of proven?benefits and evidence of potential harm to learning and sleep habits.)
So what?s the harm, exactly, if your kid is playing independently in the den while?you?re a few feet away watching Real Housewives reruns? It?s not like she?s tuning in?herself.?When parents? attention is focused on the boob tube, they play and talk less with?their kids, and research shows such ?talk time? is directly tied to vocabulary growth.?It may also affect kids? own attention spans. One study in the journal Child?Development found that background TV reduced the length of time that toddlers?played and decreased their focused attention during their playtime.
Also important to note: Any such background media can be detrimental to very young?kids whose language skills are exploding. ?Parents assume it?s just the adult shows?that are bad for the kids. Not so,? says Michele Borba, Ed.D, parenting expert and?author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Even educational shows like Sesame?Street can detract from important ?talk time? for very young children.?In older kids, studies have found that background TV might interfere with everything?from memory to reading comprehension, according to the AAP report.?Should You Ban Secondhand Media???Television ends up displacing valuable opportunities to truly enrich your child?s life,??says Everyday Health medical director Mallika Marshall, MD. ?Still, we have to be?realistic about the challenges parents face raising children. There may be occasions?when a parent uses television to occupy their kids while they attend to important?tasks at home, such as taking a shower, cooking dinner, or answering the phone.??Most parents would agree it?s just not realistic to have a zero-TV policy ? either for?their kids or themselves. The key is about balance ? and treating TV as an occasional?necessity instead of a constant presence.?So just how do you strike a compromise between an all-out TV ban and 24/7 tune-in?
1. Cut out background noise. ?When you?re not really watching the TV, turn it off,??says Borba. Too many families get in the habit of having on the news, a football?game, or Seinfeld reruns at all times, even if?they?re not totally tuned in. That?s a habit they should kick, she says. When the TV?s?off, parents are more likely to chat with their kids, and therefore enhance their?vocabulary skills.
2. Designate a TV room. To minimize your kids? exposure to secondhand media, Borba?suggests assigning a TV room ? and when you?re in there, kids younger than 2?shouldn?t be. ?You can be watching your favorite show in the ?watch room,? and your?spouse can be playing with your child in another room.?
3. Find other ?babysitters.? Get creative about how to entertain your kids when you?can?t. Folding laundry? Give baby a pile of socks to play with and talk about what?colors she sees. When you cook dinner, keep your tot busy at your feet with plastic?containers or wooden spoons. If you have older kids, have them do their homework at?the kitchen table.
4. Be the leading character in your child?s life. Here?s the most important thing to do?with your young child: Talk to him, and talk a lot. ?Your child adores you,? says?Borba. ?He?s a copycat ? so utilize it.?
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