Children tend to absorb everything around them. As much as you may think your baby or toddler isn’t paying attention, he or she is likely absorbing any background activity or noise. That’s why it’s so important to be conscientious about how much and what kinds of media your child consumes at each stage of development, regardless of whether done actively, such as watching a movie on TV, or passively, such as playing the radio. The programming you select, including any adult media, can influence your child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that TV and other media should be avoided for children age 2 or younger. Instead, the AAP emphasizes that children should learn from play and from human — not screen — interaction.
It’s therefore important for parents to determine how to regulate, limit, or monitor the media impact on children. Here are some tips:
- TV and other media are like nutrition. Outside stimuli nourish the brain just as food nourishes the body. Do you want your toddler to consume the media equivalent of fruits and vegetables or fried dough? Also, some media content, such as segments showing violence on news programs, could be damaging to your toddler. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has published many articles on the effects of violent programming on children. The articles emphasize that since toddlers can’t recognize “pretend” from reality programs, it is difficult for them to comprehend the significance of what they see and hear.This means that the parent needs to be aware of the media the child is consuming and the positive or negative influence of its content.
- Watch the clock. Experts recommend that parents limit the amount of time that their kids are exposed to monitors and screens. It’s a good idea to have a time limit or schedule for when and what your child can watch, and to remember that age should play a role in your decisions. According to a study by Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, babies who watched television had more impulsiveness, trouble concentrating, and shorter attention spans by age 7.Be sure not to allow screens and monitors to be a replacement for human interaction.
- Co-view with your toddler. The best way to monitor the media your toddler sees is to watch the content along with your child, to be sure the subject matter is OK. This is important for avoiding “unhealthy” content, such as violence, as well as for helping your child to understand the various kinds of messages that one sees, including advertising. Dale Kunkel, Ph.D., professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, notes that children aren’t always able to interpret the difference between bias, advertising and factual information. It’s therefore important to view media with your child, in order to help your toddler understand the difference between fact and fiction.
Depending on a child’s age, multimedia can be educational, such as learning history via an educational TV program. Parental intervention and participation nevertheless often are necessary to help ensure that the media impact on children is positive and not negative.