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Saturday morning cartoons not meant for babies

“Children under the age of 3 should not watch TV.” This mantra is familiar to adults who are aware of the devastating effects that an inordinate amount of television viewing has on early childhood brain development. by Tarrin McGhee
Special to the Tri-State Defender

“Children under the age of 3 should not watch TV.”

This mantra is familiar to adults who are aware of the devastating effects that an inordinate amount of television viewing has on early childhood brain development. For some parents that may not have heard the statement, the concept is easy to grasp and adopt once they understand the connection between human interaction and language format.

Babies are born with the ability to learn anything and retain an enormous amount of information during their first years of life. Thus, early exposure to social and interactive activities will create unique learning experiences that help a baby adapt and adjust to his or her new environment. By simply spending time with your baby and giving him or her attentive love and care, you are nurturing their cognitive development.

But let’s face it: this isn’t the 1950’s and the term “stay-at-home parent” is quickly becoming a catch phrase of the past. Most new parents have limited time to share quality moments with their baby and have an added responsibility to deal with new societal circumstances that are redefining what it means to be a good Mommy or Daddy.

With the exception of a small percentage, the pressing demands on today’s parents to earn dual incomes, succeed in the workplace, contribute to community and stay on top of the latest trends related to parenthood have many finding themselves asking: what’s the harm in letting Junior watch a little television?

None – assuming the content is suitable for children and age appropriate. Most importantly, for babies age 0-3, television consumption should occur in moderation and only if it enhances or reinforces positive learning experiences.

“I do allow my baby to watch television,” said Lydia Crivens, clinic social worker for Christ Community Health Services and parent of a 16-month old baby girl.

“I don’t let her watch much, however, and I make sure that the programs that we watch are good for the development of her language and social skills. Sometimes, it’s 30 minutes in the morning as I prepare her for daycare (which helps her to sit still) or 45 minutes in the evening after eating dinner, but I try not to make a habit of it,” Crivens said.

“At such an impressionable age, I don’t want her to equate down time with TV time.”

Unfortunately, that is not the case in far too many households, especially those in minority communities. A new study from Northwestern University titled, “Children, Media and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic and Asian American Children,” reports that African American and Hispanic youth consume more than three hours of television daily. Whites and Asians consumed more than two hours. In recent years, this gap in media use between white and black youth has doubled, and between white and Hispanic youth it has quadrupled. Technologies such as DVDs, TiVo, and mobile and online viewing increased television consumption.

Among children age 0 to 6, African-American children topped the charts in areas of total media exposure and amount of time spent watching TV per day.

The rise of technology and electronic media in the 21st century has certainly ushered in a new era of how a large majority of babies are learning to communicate in their brand new world.  Convenience is undoubtedly a driving factor behind why a large percentage of parents are opting to use these methods to provide their babies and toddlers with information and entertainment.

This is largely due to the wide-spread belief that the use of instructional DVDS, baby computers, specialized TV programs and all of those other amazing gadgets designed to make your child a genius will make it easier to teach basic fundamentals such as ABCs and 123s.

Besides, what parent wouldn’t want to take advantage of new advancements that guarantee his/her infant will be the first child in their peer group to speak, or to speak Spanish for that matter?

For the past 10 years, there has been an explosion of new media products manufactured and marketed for children age three and younger. Popular items such as the “Baby Einstein” collection coupled with credible brands and paid advertisements, lead many new and expectant parents to believe that kid-friendly programming – especially if it incorporates a sing-a-long format – helps to build a baby’s vocabulary and encourages imagination. While this may be true in some cases, research shows that spending exorbitant amounts of time in front of the tube or monitor diminishes your baby’s brainpower and ability to learn.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, a national organization comprised of pediatricians that work to promote optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being of children in an ideal world, children under the age of two should not watch television at all. Local experts on early childhood development agree, stating that the most effective way to get your baby to utter their first words, stimulate reaction and provide positive reinforcement is personal interaction with your child.

“From birth to age three, your baby’s brain is like a sponge, soaking up every experience of every second to develop and shape their understanding and early perceptions of the people, places and things around them,” said Katy Spurlock, director of Education and Dissemination at the Urban Child Institute. “Who or what contributes to this early growth stage is a decision that all parents will have to make.”

To promote healthy brain development and optimal advancement, parents should identify and implement alternative methods to promote learning during the pre-school stage. Taking a more proactive approach to promote cognitive development by engaging in activities such as touching, talking, reading or playing will encourage your baby’s progress in reaching critical milestones such as crawling, walking and speaking

“I always make sure that we have mommy-and-me playtime where we do a lot of interacting, which could be anything from playing with toys or cuddle time,” said Crivens. “No matter what we’re doing, I explain everything to her because I know that as I do this, her language skills are developing.”

The Urban Child Institute reports that by the time a child turns three, his/her brain has reached 80 percent of its adult volume. At this age, parents will also begin to get a glimpse of their baby’s ability to learn new things and process and retain information, an early indicator of how well the child will perform in a classroom environment.

Across the country, education statistics prove that children who enter school with a strong set of cognitive, behavioral and social skills generally perform better academically.

Multiple studies show that long-term effects on children who lack this foundation include higher probability rates of these students having lower test scores, being retained in school, placed in special education classes and not graduating high school.

According to The Urban Child Institute, school readiness is based on skills that children learn in their earliest years of life and parents are the child’s first teachers. There is little evidence that television or video will help build your child’s intellect, and recent studies have found that these activities often counteract effective measures to promote brain development.

Technology should not be used to replace engaged, responsive parenting. Before you reach for the remote to keep your child busy, consider engaging them in other activities that will be more beneficial to their development.

Finding alternative ways to keep your baby occupied may be a challenge. But remember that when it comes to your child’s future, the end results are definitely worth the effort.

(Tarrin McGhee is the owner of Pique Creative.)

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