Dimitri Christakis doesn’t want to kill your TV. But he does think you should know more about what it does to your kids. The paediatrician and co-author of The Elephant in the Living Room says many popular beliefs about television are outdated or misguided. Here’s what he told Today’s Parent:
TV doesn’t help your baby learn “In 1970, the average age at which children began to watch television was four years,” Christakis says. “Today it’s four months.” Teletubbies and Baby Einstein videos purport to help infants “discover the world.” But there is no evidence that very young children learn anything from TV, says Christakis. Babies and toddlers learn by interacting with people, and Christakis’s latest research shows that when the TV is on — even if no one is watching it — parents are less likely to talk to their kids. And “the more audible the TV was, the fewer words the babies spoke and the shorter the duration of their speech,” he says of his study. Christakis recommends zero TV for kids under two.
You’re better off letting kids watch sports than the news Young children simply cannot understand the context of news reports, and they wind up anxious and afraid. By contrast, taking in a game can be healthy. “Watching sports is associated with doing sports,” says Christakis. “It gets kids excited and provides inspiration.”
TV isn’t making your child a couch potato “Children are not sedentary because they watch TV,” says Christakis. “They watch TV because they are sedentary.” Studies suggest that television tends to displace other activities — like reading or playing with toys — that don’t actually burn more calories. TV is associated with obesity, but Christakis believes that’s because kids (and adults) tend to eat junk food while they’re watching.
Kids don’t chill out in front of the TV Research reveals that kids are more anxious after they tune out than they were before they started watching. “They dread turning off the TV because they associate it with the agitation that is going to occur,” says Christakis. You know this from experience: Your child may appear calm while watching a program before bedtime, and then be too wound up to sleep. “You’re much better off giving your toddler a warm bath or letting him run around and play,” says Christakis.
Your 10-year-old may not be watching SpongeBob Surveys in the US reveal that close to a million kids under age 11 regularly watch shows like Desperate Housewives; there’s little reason to believe kids in Canada are any different when it comes to their viewing habits. Christakis says that although many parents recognize certain programs as inappropriate for children, they somehow think their own kids have strong enough characters that they won’t be affected. “‘Family Guy is a potentially dangerous show for some other 10-year-old, but my kid’s values won’t be impacted.’ The evidence just doesn’t bear that out.”