Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock | Protect your baby’s brain; turn off the TV!

Published:Wednesday | July 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In 2014, I spent some time working as a foreign-language instructor in the very quaint and slow-paced prefecture of Songyuan, China. A Chinese teacher who resided near the apartment where I stayed, quickly befriended me and invited me into her home which she shared with her husband and five-month-old daughter.

One day, during one of my invited visits to her home, I sat in the living room and watched television as she prepared dinner. My engagement was, however, short-lived.

The baby awoke and my friend took her into the room. Within a blink, the television was turned off. My friend had done it. She then looked at me and smiled, while I looked on in utter wonder.

"No! No! Not good for baby," she explained, while pointing to the television set.

Coming from a culture where children are fed a steady diet of television from the moment they exit the womb, I thought my dear friend had gone delirious! I was adamant that children could learn many things from watching television, especially from shows that are rich in educational content. After all, my eight-year-old niece at the time had acquired her Spanish vocabulary from her own engagement with same.

Buoyed by this cultural knowledge, and experience, I, in the simplest and most comprehensible English I could find, sought to counter her stance.

"No! No! Bad! Bad for baby!" she maintained.

I allowed the matter to rest, and instead watched her as she allowed the baby to toy with the colourful mobiles around the room. There was no television on, but she was no less an adorable, and playful bundle of joy.

Days later, I revisited the matter and conducted some secondary research. Frankly, I wanted, more than anything, to prove my point. However, the literature disproved much of what I had thought, and I had to concede. My friend was indeed right.

 

DAMAGING EFFECTS

 

Televised educational programmes can be intellectually stimulating. However, when children are exposed to any form of audiovisual media at too early an age, they can experience a number of mental setbacks.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), television media "have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than two years". What is more is that "while the television is on, there's less talking, and talk time is very important in language development" (Ari Brown, AAP committee member).

As a matter of fact, a parent normally speaks 940 words per hour when a toddler is around. Once the television is on, this drops materially by 770 words! Other studies have also confirmed a growing correlation between increased television viewing and developmental delays in children.

Early television exposure has also been associated with attention disorders. This is because the projected videos change constantly, and so a child is gradually conditioned to not focus on anything for any prolonged period.

Background television - that is, when the television is on but the child is not actively watching it - can be equally damaging. The sounds can be distracting and thus make toddlers unable to focus on their hands-on play.

 

ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF ENGAGEMENT

 

In light of these findings, I am now concerned about children whose parents allow them to feast on all forms of audiovisual electronics. Such devices are often used to keep them quiet and controlled at home or elsewhere. While, admittedly, no parent can spend the entire day reading and talking with their children, I suggest that they take heed of these warnings and explore alternative means of engagement and entertainment.

Paediatricians recommend that parents allow their children to play independently as much as it is possible to do so. Independent play is believed to aid children's mental and motor development.

Additionally, when you are out with your children, instead of placating them with a game on the phone or tablet, point out environmental prints to them and involve them in discussing same. This will encourage early literacy development.

On this note, do not be like a mother who was most impatient with her five-year-old son (it seems) while they both journeyed on the bus on which I, too, was a passenger.

"Wah dat, Mommy?" the child asked repeatedly, every time he saw or heard something that he did not recognise.

"Cho, man! Tap the noise! Yuh chat too much!" the mother sternly scolded.

She refused to feed his hungry mind, despite his many questions and the countless teachable moments.

- Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock is an educator. Email comments to shawna201@gmail.com.