A groundbreaking new study has found evidence that plopping your kid down in front of a TV before the age of 2 is not only a smart thing to do, but you'll actually be helping them learn. These findings are the exact opposite of everything you've been told for the past 15 years.
As a parent you probably know that since 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has urged you... begged you... implored you to stop allowing your infant to watch any television whatsoever. You've heard that it can lead to ADD, a lowered vocabulary, obesity and other developmental problems. But a new study out of Emory University finds that children as young as 15 months old can, in fact, benefit from watching certain types of videos.
And what's more, researchers found that not only did the babies who watched sign language videos learn better, they were able to retain what they learned longer than any other group. And furthermore, they produced a greater number of signs, more than any other group.
SheKnows was able to get the first interview with lead researcher Dr. Shoshana Dayanim. She explained her study: "We had four conditions. One group of kids was in the lab only, they were our control group. The second group of kids watched baby sign language videos at home, by themselves, without a parent present for about 15 minutes a day. A third group watched the video with their parents, we call that 'coviewing,' and the final group watched no videos but instead spent 15 minutes a day with their parent teaching them sign language. Everybody was taught 18 signs."
Most psychologists might have predicted that it was that last group that would have done the best. This is because several studies have shown that optimum learning comes from time spent with a parent or caretaker.
"But that’s not what you found?" I asked, because it seemed like by the third week, the kids who did the best were the ones who watched the video alone.
"What we found was that their learning (the video only group) was equal to the kids who learned from their parents," said Dr. Dayanim. "We expected them to learn the least. We were also interested in retention. Meaning, how many of the 18 words that all the babies learned had they retained and, further, were able to produce weeks later (something hard to get from babies). All the babies were able to produce signs, which was really surprising, but especially the babies who watched videos alone. They produced more words than all groups except for one. The group who had parental help. As expected, they were the ones who retained the most words."
This study is extremely controversial. It found, with solid empirical evidence, that everything about babies and media exposure before the age of 2, all of the speculation about the damage that it can do, may be unfounded.
Why is that?
Dr. Dayanim says, "First of all, there is a severe lack of evidence in this area of study. If you notice almost every article on this topic starts with telling you how little actual research there is. Second, and more importantly, correlation does not mean causation."
What does that mean? Well, it means that just because two things are true and happen to occur at the same time, it doesn't mean they have anything to do with each other.
Here's an example: Let's say every time you go to the movies you get popcorn and Milk Duds. This week you've gone to four movies and noticed you've been packing on the pounds. You might say that movies cause weight gain, when they really have very little to do with each other. The two things might be correlated but one does not cause the other.
In the case of warnings about infant television viewing before the age of 2, why is there a lack of study? Dr. Dayanim explains that it's really hard to test babies. You can't ask them, "Whatcha thinking?" nor can you give them a survey to fill out, so the AAP is doing the responsible thing by offering caution to parents.
So are there any cautions with the current study? Dr. Dayanim says, "The danger is that parents don't use moderation. Our kids watched only 15 minutes a day and that was fine, but we don't know how much is too much, and we don't know the long-term effects."
Her overall advice is that if you're going to allow your baby to watch a video, choose a sign language video and limit your child's viewing time to 15-20 minutes per day. This includes passive TV viewing, which means if you have television on in the background that counts towards your child's viewing time.
"The infant brain is developing at such a rapid pace, so you don't want them to get all of their life experiences from a two-dimensional world. Much of their learning is tactile, so they need to touch and see and feel as much of real life as possible."
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