When I was growing up my mother always told us that watching too many episodes of “The Three Stooges“ would rot our brains. Of course she had no solid proof of this. But as it turns out, she may have been on to something.
Researchers in Taiwan recently looked at the effects of television viewing on the developmental skills of young children.
The study is timely. The University of Michigan reports that TV viewing among kids is at an eight-year high. But it’s not just TV. Today’s children are also plugged into DVDs, videos, game consoles, computers, and other devices.
Even toddlers are in on the action. Another study found that that 10% of 0- to 1-year-olds and 39% of 2- to 4-year-olds had access to smartphones, iPods, iPads, or other tablet devices.
The Taiwan researchers wanted to know how much time kids were actually spending watching TV and other devices, and what effects it was having on their cognitive, language, and motor skills.
They collected data on 150 children under three years old who had access to TV, smartphones, iPads or computers.
The children were divided into two groups depending on whether they watched TV more than two hours per day (the high exposure group) or less than two hours per day (the control group).
In the high exposure group researchers found that children were watching an average of 137.2 minutes per day. Even those under two were watching an average of 67.4 minutes per day. Those over two spent an average of 103.8 minutes per day watching TV.
They also found that children with non-parental caregivers including grandparents and nannies watched more TV.
The researchers used standard tests to evaluate the children’s cognitive and language development skills. The tests also gauged personal social abilities. It assessed fine and gross motor skills. That included things like reflexes, locomotion, object manipulation, grasping, and visual-motor integration.
The study results showed that children exposed to more TV increased their risk of delayed cognitive, language, and motor development.
Compared to children who didn’t watch much TV, those who were frequently exposed to television were:
- 3.9 times more likely to have delayed cognitive development
- 3.3 times more likely to have delayed language skills
- 3.7 times more likely to have delayed motor development
And they weren’t even watching “The Three Stooges.” Many children in the study were watching “educational” programming. Most commonly they watched “Teletubbies,” “Thomas and Friends,” and “Dora the Explorer.” The researchers explained that the problem isn’t what the kids are watching. It’s just the watching.
Children who watch any television spend less time on developmentally enriching activities. And that includes playing. The more toddlers watch TV the less time they spend in physical activities needed to improve motor skills.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children two years and older watch less than two hours of television per day, and that children younger than two watch NO television.
*Image of “child” via Shutterstock