Turn off Toddlers' TV; Electronics Manufacturers Agree Early Childhood Viewing Is Unhealthy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 31, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Turn off Toddlers' TV; Electronics Manufacturers Agree Early Childhood Viewing Is Unhealthy


Byline: Gary Shapiro, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Most parents know instinctively not to let their children watch too much television. After all, we teach our children the right habits starting at an early age. Eat your vegetables and then you can have dessert. Do your homework and then you can play a game. We also know how hard it is to follow those rules, even as adults.

But many parents probably do not know about the body of research showing the potential for harmful and long-lasting effects associated with letting children younger than 2 watch any amount of television. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Oct. 18 announced it discourages media use by children younger than 2 and the use of background television intended for adults when a young child is in the room.

No doubt, that sounds draconian to many parents. As president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents companies that make and sell televisions and other display devices, I know it certainly did for me - until a few years ago, when my son was born and my wife, a medical doctor, insisted I review the medical literature.

What I found not only concerned me, but also persuaded me to endorse the AAP's guidelines despite the awkward position in which this puts makers of television sets, the very industry I have spent a career representing. But to its credit, the association urged me to publicize the AAP caution. Many said they would support it, and we prepared a public relations announcement and campaign. The AAP stopped this effort two years ago as it said a new warning was under review and asked us to wait until it was issued. We saw it recently, and it makes sense.

Studies show that television viewing by children can lead to higher rates of violence, obesity and poor school performance. Most would not be shocked by these findings. The literature is vast that establishes a link between what a child sees on television, such as violent behavior, and how that child acts at home or in school. So is the more mundane finding that children who spend hours inactive in front of the television are more likely to be overweight.

The real concern, however, is that a child's cognitive maturation is more sensitive at 1 to 2 years than it is at even 3 to 6 years. So even though a child is too young to have homework or spend an hour outside on the playground, watching television could damage the child's ability to do these activities later in life. That's because the damage isn't only habit-forming, which can be fixed, but it also can lead to neurological problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A 2004 study in the journal Pediatrics found that early television viewing is associated with attention problems, such as ADHD, which become noticeable when the child enters school.

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