For her first years of life, my daughter.She probably thought that television showed only one piece of content: the 1993 version of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker, starring as the title role as Macaulay Culkin, who spends most of the ballet running across the stage and making his arm bloom as the New York City Ballet corps dances. My mother had mentioned the story to Ella one day and I came across this free version, by chance, on YouTube. He was charming, and on the scale of Really Bad Things You Can Expose Your Child To, He seemed pretty nondescript. As a millennial parent, I was very much in tune with this scale, spending my days wading through a swamp of screaming headlines arguing that even a few minutes of screen time could put my son on the asocial, vitamin D-deprived path of playing Fortnite for 22 hours. a day and subsisting on Soylent.
But as Ella grew older and began to suspect that this magical screen might contain other treasures, I decided to manage how to approach television. What I learned helped me form the cornerstone of our home’s technology philosophy for living with preschoolers.
First of all, today’s children’s programming is much more fast-paced and frenetic than the programming of yesteryear. Watch a few minutes of The Powerpuff Girls, which cuts itself off every few seconds and gushes out neon colors that can make your TV visible from outer space, and it feels like inhaling four tablespoons of espresso. Compare this to older children’s shows like Mister Rogers, shot with a single camera and with a man speaking at half the speed of his cardigan, and you will immediately see the difference. Quick cuts common in newer children’s programs signal the brain to react and refocus attention; Scientists call this an “orientation response.” The more cuts in a given minute, the worse it will be for your child.
“By design, television shows take advantage of our guiding response,” write Drs. Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman in The Elephant in the Living Room, which explores the effect of television viewing on children. With few exceptions, there are now more rapid cuts than before. To take a look at the bottom line, take a look at this horrifying finding from one of Christakis’s studies: For every hour of daily television a 0-3 year old child watches, the risk that the child will develop ADHD-compatible attention problems increases by 9%.
Second, one of the most important brain-building activities is the kind known in academic and medical fields as “service and return interactions,” and the presence of screens drastically reduces them. The idea is that the more communication a child experiences and the more exposed to language, the more resilient, successful and social they will be. Television is a little better for children if you, the parent, “participate” in the viewing experience and engage them in a conversation about what they are watching. But to do that you have to be able to see the screen. Which led me to one of my biggest takeaways: don’t give your child a personal tablet if you can help it. Watch it on the biggest screen you have. Why?
“Kids create a walled space,” Dr. Jenny Radesky told me about using tablets in the set less than four feet tall. She is a lead author of the 2016 AAP Digital Media Guidelines for Young Children and runs a laboratory at the University of Michigan. In a study he conducted to determine how tablets affect parent-child interactions, he observed how parents were forced to lie melodramatically on the back pillows of couches, with their necks stretched out at unnatural angles, while their children formed a ball. and they took them out. The smaller the screen, the more elbows come out.
(A separate topic is the idea of handing your child a tablet or smartphone in the hopes that they will learn something from an app. Research shows that children under the age of five have an extremely difficult time learning from a 2D screen. and translate that into the 3D world without help, so unless you are with your child, playing with him, you should probably give up the idea that it is enriching).
Of course, no one expects parents to stop Frozen every few minutes to question Junior about the benefits and harms of being able to turn one’s world to ice. You’re probably putting up the cartoon so you don’t have to participate at all, and by my conservative and unscientific estimate, there are 14 million other opinion pieces to write about why American parents should turn to screen time. 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 this is a ridiculous request these days, because [TV is] being used as a babysitter, but I constantly ask parents, ‘Please watch with your son,’ ”Rosemarie Truglio, a legend in the children’s programming space, told me. She is the senior vice president of curriculum and content for Sesame Workshop, which means she’s in charge of making sure one of the most loved and respected preschool shows is teaching its viewers the right things.
“Doing so could extend the learning,” he said. “Talk or act on the story” after watching it. “That is when they learn. Use it as a stepping stone. “
So what is our family’s television philosophy now?
Minimize screen time. Opt for boredom and weather the impending tantrums in hopes that building a Magna-Tile castle or getting lost in a fantasy world might suck our daughters a little. When we just don’t have the means, we put on something nice, slow, and calm. And we show it on a big screen to increase the chances that we can enjoy it together.
During the pandemic, she, now five, saw Oklahoma! So many times did I find her innocently singing “I’m just a girl who can’t say no” in the bathtub? Yes. Did I flagellate myself over that? No. I just struck up a conversation about Ado Annie, regional accents, and how she brushes her teeth before bed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism