Should young children watch television?

September 15, 2007 | By | 1 Reply More

Here’s an interview with journalist Lisa Guernsey, the author of a new book on this multi-faceted topic of television and young children.  Her book is titled Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five.

Guernsey was asked about Baby Einstein (I previously discussed this product at DI here), among many other television related topics:

Q: There was a recent study from the University of Washington, which found that Baby Einstein may actually hinder children’s language development, leading bloggers to cackle “Baby Einstein makes baby stupid!” Did you find any evidence that Baby Einstein is beneficial in anyway?

A: I did not. What I did find is that videos like Baby Einstein that may purport to stimulate cognitive development or language learning may not be designed using the principles that developmental psychologists know apply to these very young children.

An example is the way that children learn language. The more a caregiver points to and labels what they’re talking about — “Here’s an apple. Do you want an apple for your lunch? It’s a red apple” — and the more the child is able to see that apple at the exact same time those words are being said, the more children will learn. They’ll get the word “apple.” They’ll start to understand the color red. But a lot of these videos are not designed with those principles in mind.

On a related topic, a recent edition of Science (available only to subscribers on-line) recently published a piece sounding a caveat to those many businesses out there that claim that science can be directly applied to make your child smarter, more attentive, more curious, etc.   The bottom line is that, while cognitive scientists are making monumental progress on many fronts, much of this research cannot be credibly said to be applicable in playrooms and classrooms.  I took these principles (collectively known as the “Santiago Declaration”) to be a pushback to marketers such as Baby Einstein.

Here is a comment on this Santiago Declaration caveat by Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek and John T. Bruer, published in Science as an editorial:

How did the myth of brain-based pedagogy become so pervasive in educational discussions? How did policy-makers, educators, and the public become so misinformed? Current worldwide interest in early childhood development can be attributed to a successful public relations campaign launched in the mid-1990s in the United States. The campaign promoted legislation to fund Early Head Start. Media interest made the campaign’s message headline news for parents around the world. Yet brain science, which is still refining methods to analyze early brain development, is not ready to relate neuronal processes to classroom outcomes. Current brain research offers a promissory note for a future in which developmental models and theories of learning may be refined based on how brain systems support learning. Meanwhile, popular misunderstandings present a serious downside. One example is the emphasis given to the popular, but scientifically unsupported, notion of a critical period during which children’s brains can learn almost any subject efficiently. Belief in a biologically limited critical period for learning mobilized governments, legislators, and media worldwide to pass legislation and fund early childhood programs. The educational literature is now stocked with books and articles boasting brain-based curricula and practices. Brain-based consultants continue to visit school districts. And a market has grown for brain-based toys. The message of synaptic growth and critical periods has affective appeal, but no scientific substance.

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Category: Communication, Consumerism, Education, Psychology Cognition, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erika Price says:

    This knowledge won't stop parents from giving their children an excessive dose of TV. Television has an incredible lure as a short-term babysitter. I'd imagine that the average parent, will full hands and countless tasks to perform can't resist the urge to distract their young, fussy child with TV for a few moments so that they can take a shower, do the bills, do the laundry, get something done in peace. Even with the knowledge that TV hampers a child's intellectual growth, it will remain a large part of kids' cognitive diet. But perhaps parents would reduce TV time a little if they didn't have the delusion that it helped kids learn.

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