The good news is infants won't be irrevocably damaged by
spending some time in front of a television. The bad news is it
won't help them either, say researchers with the Center on Media
and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston.
The new study of nearly 900 mothers and toddlers showed no
significant difference in cognitive test scores between kids who
had watched television under the age of 2 and those who hadn't,
breaking with prior studies that showed a demonstrably negative
"We were surprised," says Dr. Marie Evans Schmidt, a
developmental psychologist and the lead author of the study. "We
had hypothesized that (TV watching) would have a measurable
negative effect, but it didn't."
The study, published in the March issue of the journal
Pediatrics, concluded that television viewing was independent of
other factors in child cognitive development. It found that,
although toddlers who watched more television frequently had lower
test scores, the disparity was due to the factors that influenced
higher TV-watching rates-not the watching itself.
Evans Schmidt concedes that the study is not completely
comprehensive. "We only looked at the quantity of TV viewed, not
what they were watching," she says. "We suspect that that would
have made a difference."
But Dr. Michael Rich, director of CMCH and a co-author of the
study, says the research is a blow to marketers who claim their
"baby videos" can improve mental development in infants. Rich adds
that the study reinforces, rather than undermines, the American
Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children under 2 not
"Television still is not as good a stimulus for optimal brain
development as other things that the child can be doing with that
time," he says.
He recommends three alternatives to television for improving
infants' mental growth: having them engage in face-to-face
interaction with other people, allowing them to influence their
environment (such as playing with a rattle or other toy) and
encouraging open-ended play that promotes creativity and
"Better than putting the kids in front of something that will
drill them on their alphabet, give them a stack of paper and
crayons," Rich suggests.
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