I read a lot of books, but don’t always take (or have) the time to do a thorough book review of them to share on What’s up Fagans? Part of that is because some books aren’t worth that time or effort. But, I absolutely loved this last book I read, and am pretty much going to recommend it to all parents (and caregivers). The book is Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Your Child from birth to age five by Lisa Guernsey. (There is a newer edition, as of Mar 2012, called “Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Electronic Software – Affects Your Young Child“)
This book is the book all parents have been looking for – research on how TV is really affecting your child’s emotional, cognitive, and social well-being. Guernsey is a mom of two young children and also a reporter. When her first daughter was a newborn she had colic and put in some baby videos to calm her down, at least for 20 minutes. She didn’t know at the time that the American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended NO TV AT ALL before the second birthday, and as a new parent, wanted to know why such the strict rule?
This book looks at how TV affects the under two crowd, from multiple different angles, as well as addresses how it affects toddlers and preschoolers. Guernsey goes into details of numerous studies from multiple different organizations and what those studies have taught us. Here are the questions she answers in Into the Minds of Babes (from the Table of Contents, pages vii-ix):
- What exactly is this video doing to my baby’s brain?
- ADHD and autism–should I be worried?
- Why do pediatricians say no screen time before age 2?
- Is TV turning my tot into a zombie?
- Why does it look like child is tuning out?
- At what age do children become mentally engaged?
- Could my child learn from baby videos?
- How and when do toddlers learn from audiovisual media?
- What is the “video deficit?”
- My toddler doesn’t seem to notice when the TV is on–or does he?
- What is the impact of background television?
- How does noise affect language development?
- Which videos are too scary for my child?
- What content is most upsetting to young children?
- What should I do when they get frightened by what they see?
- What is educational about “educational” TV?
- What are the features of a well-designed preschool show?
- Have children really been shown to benefit from educational shows?
- Could the right DVD teach my child to speak or better yet, become bilingual?
- What exactly leads to language development?
- Will foreign-language videos give my children an edge?
- Can electronic media enrich my child’s vocabulary?
- At what age can a video make the most difference?
- Under what conditions do children learn words from TV?
- Could this program teach my child to be a good person?
- Is there any evidence that videos can inspire good character?
- How are TV, pretend play and good behavior connected?
- Is interactive media worthwhile–or at least better than TV?
- Are screen-based toys of any use to babies?
- Is educational software a good idea for preschoolers?
- Will screen time make my children fat?
- Are there real connections between TV and obesity?
- Does the location of the TV matter?
- How do real families make smart media choices?
- How do they cope with siblings? sickness? single parenthood?
- What are some examples of limits that stick?
I know I’ve asked most of those questions about my own children and their media usage. I want to know if I am screwing them up or helping them learn by letting them watch videos, TV, and commercials. There were many insights in this book that I did not know before. Some things that made sense, but others that were very surprising. All children’s videos are not created equal. Content matters a lot. And so does the context. And so does my child (the three C’s she harps on throughout the book).
I especially learned much in the chapter on background noise/TV where I learned that parent-child interaction and language development are hindered by background noise/TV. In fact, the complexity and length of a child’s pretend play (which afford many of the most essential intellectual and social advantages for children, p.71) is lessened and hurt by background TV. Even if a child isn’t watching the TV, if it is on in the same room, it is affecting your child. In fact, studies found that background TV can be more damaging than foreground TV.
From the chapter on moral programming, I learned about how “pro-social” programming has mixed results. And, that surprisingly, pretend play helps children learn pro-social skills the best. It’s also shown that many shows which feature a good ending, are not taking enough time on that resolution, so the message is not gleaned at all.
In the chapter about TV making children fat, I learned how the ad spots, and location of the TV are much more to blame, than the quantity of TV viewing alone. I also learned that ads and commercials are very hard for young children to understand. They don’t know that advertisements are trying to sell something, which is why kids under 8 often believe that they do need (or that you need) products they see advertised.
I was reminded while reading this book how innocent children under the age of eight are. They don’t understand the concept of “real” (so telling them not be afraid because the Bogey Monster isn’t real doesn’t help), or that advertisements are trying to sell them something (and that they have a hard time recognizing web ads at all, even past the age of 8), and how they emulate much of what they see, in whatever form or context it comes. Children are indeed sponges, so we should be making sure, as their parents and the ones who know and love them the most, that we are doing our part to protect and help them. I found this book to be a great resources to help me do that with my children. I think much of what we’ve been watching is already in line with the findings Guernsey presents.
This is what our family does, in terms of TV use, for our children:
We only have one TV. It’s in the public living room space. It is almost always off. We don’t have cable, or even rabbit ears. We ONLY watch videos. We even recently got rid of netflix and huluplus. But, we do watch TV episodes on our computer, sometimes with our children present (though we’re trying to not do that so much anymore). Now, when we want to watch one of our shows, we watch them on a computer we’ve moved into our bedroom, watching them together in bed after the kids go to sleep, or during nap time.
The videos my children most often watch are Sesame Street DVDs, Leap Frog DVDs, or a Disney/Animated movie (although in this book it talks about how not all animated/Disney movies are actually suitable for children my girls age… but, no nightmares have yet occurred for them).
We limit how long they watch – usually 1-2 hours max for an entire day, sickness/weather/craziness permitting. Some days we don’t watch any TV at all.
So, if you are a parent, I urge you to read this book, Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Your Child affects children from birth to age 5 and think harder about when, where, why, and what your children are watching.
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