Television and Your Child’s Brain

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Photo Credit: Donnie Ray Jones

“TV will rot your brain.”

We’ve all heard the old adage “TV will rot your brain”. But, how true is that? We live in the wonderful age of Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, where we can access hundreds of kids’ shows with a click of a button. Many of these show boast some kind of educational benefit. A talking tiger teaches our children manners, brightly colored animals teach them the alphabet, and a team of superheroes show our kids how to construct sentences. Not only do these shows not seem harmful, they seem beneficial, even. Is your child really benefiting from watching TV or is something entirely different happening inside their absorbent little minds?

Is TV bad for kids?

TV time for toddlers might not be as harmless as it seems. A link has been found between a toddler’s exposure to TV and later struggles with math, as well as future issues with unhealthy eating habits and obesity. The Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure followed a group of children from toddlerhood well into the school-age years, noting the amount of TV exposure at 29 and 53 months of age. Researchers found significant decreases in classroom engagement and math scores, as well as a decrease in weekend physical activity and increases is snack consumption and Body Mass Index (BMI) at the age of 10.

However engaging and educational these TV shows seem to be, watching a screen is passive, not interactive, and is replacing time when a child could be actively engaged with their environment, mentally and physically.

And this was just a study on the effects of TV on toddlers.

The effects of screens on adolescents

Screen time and older children and teenagers has been studied extensively and the results are disturbing. Several studies show gray matter atrophy, as well as other changes to the brain’s structure and function as a result of excessive screen exposure. Most of the damage occurs in the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that is primarily responsible for our success in multiple areas of our adult lives.

AAP screen recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against any screen time for children under 18 months. 18-24 months, media should only be used with an adult aiding in the interaction. For the 2-5 crowd, no more than an hour of TV each day is recommended; and content is important. PBS kids and Sesame Street Workshop are listed by the AAP as acceptable programming.

In summary, as with most things we do in our lives, moderation is key. Also key, is staying informed. We live in an era of information and studies and recommendations are available to all of us. Some other things that are available to us…warm breezes, the sound of the wind in the trees, the feel of wet grass between our toes, and an abundance of potential learning experiences all around us! Aristotle said, “The senses are gateways to the intelligence”. I say, give screen-free life a chance and you might just be surprised at your child’s ability to busy themselves and learn in other ways!


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