Saturday, May 01, 2004
Tune into baby, not TV We have heard it from scientists. But for those not listening, we've even heard it it on television. In one episode of the primetime cartoon “The Simpsons,” the family attends the company picnic. Mother Marge frets about leaving her baby with a mass of other children in a large, chaotic room and no babysitter.
Don't worry, another mother tells Marge, there's a television here and it's better than a babysitter-just watch. The mother turns on the set, heads snap toward the TV, the noise stops, the children become zombies in front of the glowing box, their mouths gaping, their eyes wide.
The message is clear: TV has a dramatic effect on children. It stops interaction, stops play, silences kids and shuts down their brain.
Now come headlines of another study that finds children ages 1 to 3 who watch lots of television are more likely to have problems paying attention and are at greater risk for developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The study, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal, measured the effect of each hour of daily television watching for kids ages 1 to 3. The results are startling: Every hour spent daily in front of the television increases the risk of attention problems 10-fold.
The key here is not the show's content. Even so-called educational shows flash images across the screen at break-neck speed. Watching them overstimulates the child and rewires the brains of infants and toddlers during their most vulnerable formative years.
No wonder the study made national headlines. It is important information. But the idea that television is harmful to young children isn't news. For years, studies have shown that television viewing leads to aggression and childhood obesity.
There is no debate about this. The scientific community agrees. So much so that in 1999 the Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics recommended children under age 2 watch no television or videos.
No screen time. None. Then why is one of the fastest growing segments of the video markets aimed at the under-3 set? The answer is simple: They are bring in billions in sales.
Baby Einstein by Disney is the top seller and a perfect example. It uses names such as Mozart, Bach and Shakespeare-a not so subtle way to suggest these tapes will educate your child.
The marketing says to parents: You are tired and stressed. You need a break to make dinner, to make a phone call. Everyone uses TV as a babysitter, why shouldn't you? Beside it's educational, how can that be bad?
And parents of infants-vulnerable to guilt-buy the hype that these tapes are good for them and for the baby. But they aren't. As good parents, we already knew that. Now there's additional research to prove it. Not only are they not educational, they are harmful.
A child's brain is stimulated by interactions with people: Touch, talk, smiles and sound are educational. Tired? Stressed out? Of course you are, you're a parent. Get used to it. It's not easy. Stop listening to people who want to profit from you. Turn off the TV and pick up the baby.
Too many babies are dying Babies born in Illinois have a better than ever chance of living. The Illinois Department of Health reports the state's infant mortality rate hit an all-time low of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002.
In nine years, the rate has fallen by 25 percent.
That's the great news. Now for the bad news: The state's overall infant mortality rate remains higher than the national average of 7 deaths per 1,000 live births. And the really bad news: Illinois' numbers look significantly less wonderful when they're broken down by race.
Among Illinois' African Americans, the news is particularly grim-the infant mortality rate is nearly triple that among whites and Hispanics. And it went up in 2002.
This is utterly unacceptable. Yes, public health officials are working on the problem. Federal funding for WIC, the nutrition program for pregnant women and children, has increased. And another program is getting a special grant to reach out to pregnant black women in some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.
It's not enough. The Chicago Department of Public Health operates only seven free health care clinics in poor neighborhoods. The Bush administration wants to restructure-governmentspeak for cut-Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. This is no way to save babies.
We know how to deliver strong, healthy, full-term babies: quality prenatal care, good nutrition and parental education. It's time we put more health care services where they're most needed. Or our society will be judged harshly, indeed.