Have you ever wondered why some babies are chatterboxes and others are quiet? Dr. Victor Strasburger can always tell which toddlers are being read to by grown-ups and which ones have the TV babysitter.
“The babies that are being read to are just chattering away, and the babies that sit in front of a TV are silent,” Strasburger says. “It means their language development is threatened—they may catch up, but it’s a concern.”
Language Development Impeded by TV
As a pediatrician, Strasburger has found that infants learn language (among other things) better from actual people than those behind a TV or computer screen. This is troubling given the first national estimate of background television exposure says the average American child spends 232 minutes with TV on in the background—about as much time as they spend in school.
Voices in the background can be comforting for many people, but for young children, the effects on development are not well known. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against children having any more than two hours around televisions as well as the internet.
But the negative effects go much deeper than any average parent might expect. The constant bombardment of advertisements everyone faces has a profound effect on daily life, and this is especially true for young children. These pictures and advertisements on TV shape our subconscious, and with children viewing up to 30,000 ads annually, it is more than difficult to control the shaping of our TV-driven future.
Limiting Media Exposure
The national estimate—spearheaded by University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Matthew Lapierre—found that children with televisions in their bedrooms as well as African American children were most at risk of overexposure.
Too much media time can, in addition to impeding brain development, cause sleep problems, drowsiness out of bed, and even unwanted weight gain from staying up late to snack. Additionally, children busy watching TV are not outside getting their vitamin D (which improves dental health more than does fluoride) and bettering social skills by playing with friends.
“We definitely need to rethink this sort of exposure,” says Lapierre.
“This is a clear warning signal to parents that if they are not watching TV, they ought to turn it off,” Strasburger adds, “and a reminder that parents should be avoiding screen time in infants under two.”