If you place your preschooler in front of a screen, choose a television. Here’s why | Sophie brickman

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For her early years of life, my daughter Ella probably thought that TV was showing only one content: the 1993 version of The Nutcracker by George Balanchine, starring in the title role Macaulay Culkin, who spends the majority of the ballet running on stage and spreading his arm as the New York City Ballet body actually dances. My mom told Ella the story one day and I happened to find this free version, by chance, on YouTube. It was charming and, on the scale of Really Bad Things You Can Expose Your Child To, seemed pretty innocuous. As a millennial parent, I was very tuned in to this scale, spending my days wading through a quagmire of screaming headlines claiming that even a few minutes of screen time could put my child on the asocial path and deprived of vitamin D from playing Fortnite 22 hours a day and subsisting on Soylent.

But as Ella got older and began to suspect that this magical screen might hold other treasures, I decided to figure out how to approach television. What I learned has helped me form the cornerstone of the technological philosophy of Our Home for Life with Preschoolers.

First, children’s programming today is much faster and more frenetic than programming in the past. Watch a few minutes of The Powerpuff Girls, which cuts every few seconds and sprouts neon colors that might make your TV visible from space, and you’ll feel like you’re snorting four tablespoons of espresso. Compare that to older kids’ shows like Mister Rogers, shot by one camera and featuring a man talking at half the speed he puts on his cardigan, and you’ll immediately see the difference. The quick cuts common in new children’s shows cause the brain to straighten up and refocus its attention; scientists call this an “orientation response”. The more cuts there are in a given minute, the worse it is for your child.

“By design, television programs exploit our referral response,” write Drs. Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman in The Elephant in the Living Room, which explores the effect of television on children. With a few exceptions, there are more quick cuts now than there were before. For a glimpse of the result, take this horrific result from one of Christakis’ studies: For every hour of daily television that a child aged 0 to 3 watches, the risk of developing attention problems compatible with ADHD increases by 9%.

Second, one of the most important activities for brain development is what is known in academia and medicine as “serve and return interactions” – and the presence of screens dramatically reduces them. The idea is that the more a child knows about communication and the more he is exposed to language, the more resilient, successful and social he will be. Television is slightly better for children if you, the parent, “participate” in the watching experience and engage them in a conversation about what they are watching. But in order to do that, you need to be able to see the screen. Which brought me to one of my biggest takeaways: Don’t give your kid a personal tablet if you can help them. Watch on the biggest screen you have. Why?

“Children create an enclosed space,” Dr. Jenny Radesky told me of using shelves in sets less than four feet tall. She is a lead author of the 2016 AAP Digital Media Guidelines for Young Children and runs a lab at the University of Michigan. In a study she conducted to determine how tablets affect parent-child interactions, she observed that parents were forced to lie down melodramatically on pillows on the backs of sofas, necks stretched out at unnatural angles, as their offspring lifted themselves up and pushed them aside. The smaller the screen, the smaller the elbows.

(A separate issue is the idea of ​​giving your child a tablet or smartphone in the hope that they can learn something from an app. Research shows that children under five have a lot of struggling to learn from a 2D screen and translate that into the 3D world without any help, so unless you’re right next to your kid, playing with them, you should probably give up on the idea that it is. is enriching.)

Of course, no one expects parents to stop Frozen every few minutes to ask Junior about the pros and cons of being able to turn their world into ice cream. You’re probably putting the cartoon on so you don’t have to commit at all, and there are, by my conservative and highly unscientific estimate, 14 million more editorials to write about why American parents have to resort to time. screen. as they navigate a world without the social support they deserve. But at least if you can see the screen, you might be able to use it as a starting point for interaction.

“I know that’s a ridiculous request these days, because [TV is] used as a babysitter, but I keep asking parents, “Please watch with your child,” Rosemarie Truglio, a legend in the children’s programming space, told me. She’s the Senior Vice President of Program and Content at Sesame Workshop, which means she’s responsible for making sure that one of the most beloved and respected preschool shows teaches her viewers the right things.

“If you do, you could extend the learning,” she said. “Speak or act out the story” after watching. “This is when they learn. Use it as a stepping stone.

So what is our family’s television philosophy now?

Minimize screen time. Go for boredom and dodge any impending tantrums in the hope that building a Magna-Tile castle, or getting lost in a make-believe world, might captivate our girls a bit. When we just can’t afford it, we put on something nice, slow, and calm. And we’re putting it on the big screen, to increase the chances that we can enjoy it together.

During the pandemic, Ella, now five, did she watch Oklahoma! so many times had I met her innocently singing “I’m just a girl who can’t say no” in the tub? Yes. Did I flog myself on it? Nope. I just started a conversation about Teen Annie, and regional accents, and how she brushes her teeth before bed.


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