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The effect of TV on development

Advice on the developmental effects of television plus tips on keeping baby's viewing time educational.
With new educational 'baby only' channels set to hit the UK in the near future, statistics showing that infants spend more time watching TV than interacting directly with their parents and research claiming to link TV viewing to disorders such as ADHD and autism, it can be difficult to know whether TV is helping or harming your baby.

The first two years of a baby's life are perhaps the most important in terms of learning and development as it is during this period that the neural pathways and connections necessary to facilitate further learning begin to form. To lay this essential foundation, babies need to explore their environment; the best way for them to do this is through active interaction and communication with others.

Although most of the research examining the effect of television on development has so far been inconclusive, several studies claim to have found possible links between exposure to TV at a young age and an increased prevalence of attentional disorders such as ADHD and autism, communication deficits and later obesity. At the moment these links are purely speculative so you shouldn't be overly concerned, however as a precaution the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) have suggested that until more conclusive research has been conducted, infants under the age of 2 should not watch any TV at all.

The above research implies passive viewing and over stimulation to be the damaging factors of TV viewing at a young age. On this basis, if you do choose to let your baby watch TV, you should only select age appropriate 'educational' programmes (ideally they should be of a very slow pace involving only 1 adult entertainer) of no more than 10 minutes in length and limit viewing to a maximum of half an hour a day.

By interacting with your baby while they watch television, it becomes an interactive rather than passive activity and is much better for your baby's development. If possible sit and watch programs with them so you can encourage baby to sing and dance along and emphasise any new concepts; simply chatting at them while you do the ironing will help.

You should limit television viewing to communal family areas such as the living room (and not in your infant's bedroom) as this will facilitate the type of family interaction that helps development. Additionally, you should only let baby watch specific programs and always turn the TV off after their program finishes. Research has found that parents are more likely to interact directly with their infant without the distracting influence of TV and that background noise from the television can be detrimental to the development of language.

In conclusion, for the under 2's the jury is still out - although it is preferable that your baby doesn't watch any TV, this isn't always realistic. By limiting viewing time, playing or chatting with baby during age appropriate programs, explaining any new concepts and encouraging baby to interact with the program, any potential effects should be minimised.

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