I started to study the consequences of television on children a while ago and even started to develop a program who was teaching children how to "read TV or video programs" (media education).
It seems natural to everyone that children learn to read letters and books but not images (media education) and it is a mistake, particularly in our present world where images are getting more and more important.
Parents will not see the consequences of leaving their child watching television before a long time, probably not before he is 6 or 7 years old, however it could happen as soon as 4 years old as it did happen for the child of one of my friend. She rapidly cut down TV time and Video Game.
Lets start with 2 consequences of leaving a child watch TV :
- a lake of imagination: when the child need to escape in imaginary world he will turn on the TV and watch imaginary world that others made for him instead of making its own!
- difficulty to focus and concentrate: I heard many parents happy to see their children learn from television, learn shape, words... I understand that it does seem attractive that way, but the problem is HOW they learn: in a passive absorption of knowledge instead of searching for it. They do not open books, ask questions, interact, they just absorb. It will not be consequences free.
Children do not need TV they need entertainment and yes it is a little more challenging to teach them how to entertain themselves in the few first years (3 to 4 years depending of the child personality) than turning on the TV which is doing the job, but it is worth it! I
In fact it will be better for children to watch no TV or video at all before 3 years old and then no more than 20 minutes a day (and not every day) until 6 or 7 years old and never alone. Watching TV or video has to be an activity among others with no more importance than others, parents need to share it so the child can stay active in front of the screen, ask question, talk about it.
It is as badly damaging for the child if parents are watching TV when he is around, it is called environment pollution.
Below is a a news release of a new policy published in the August issue of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). (1999)
CHICAGO - A new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents to avoid television for children under 2 years old.
"While certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills," the policy says.
The new AAP statement on media education also suggests parents create an "electronic media-free" environment in children's rooms, and avoid using media as an electronic babysitter. In addition, it recommends pediatricians incorporate questions about media into routine child health visits, as education can reduce harmful media effects.
"With an educated understanding of media images and messages, users can recognize media's potential effects and make good choices about their and their children's media exposure," states the new policy.
According to the AAP, a media educated person understands that:
all media messages are constructed;
media messages shape our understanding of the world;
individuals interpret media messages uniquely; and
mass media has powerful economic implications.
Research strongly suggests that media education may result in young people becoming less vulnerable to negative aspects of media exposure, the AAP says. In some studies, heavy viewers of violent programming were less accepting of violence or showed decreased aggressive behavior after a media education intervention. Another study found a change in attitudes about wanting to drink alcohol after a media education program.
Canada, Great Britain, Australia and some Latin American countries have successfully incorporated media education into school curricula, the statement says. "Common sense would suggest that increased media education in the United States could represent a simple, potentially effective approach to combating the myriad of harmful media messages seen or heard by children and adolescents."
In addition, the AAP emphasized that media education should not be used as a substitute for careful scrutiny of the media industry's responsibility for its programming.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In 1997 the AAP created the media education campaign Media Matters as a way to educate pediatricians to teach families the importance of media literacy.