New parents used to worry only about following the advice of such experts as Dr. Spock. Now, there are competing studies on every aspect of child rearing, particularly on the impact of the media on infants and young children.
Lisa Guernsey is the mother of a five-year-old and a three-year-old and lives in Del Ray. When they were two and a new-born, she began to wonder about whether to put videos on to entertain her children so that she could accomplish other tasks; about what kinds of videos were good and bad and about the impact these videos were having on her own children. A science and technology writer, Guernsey turned her curiosity into research and that research into a new book, Into the Minds of Babes How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five.
Guernsey explains her introduction to videos for young children in the books preface. My introduction to Baby Einstein came in a moment of panic. I was a new mother with a colicky five-week-old baby, desperate for anything that might calm her. Try Baby Mozart, advised one of my closest friends, who had just emerged – alive – from six months of colic with her daughter
On went the video, opening a window onto a terrain that I never knew existed before: the world of electronic media for the very young, she wrote.
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no screen time for children under the age of two, Guernseys research found. I dont agree with that but I do believe that parents have to be selective, Guernsey said. Basically, parents have to focus on what I call the three Cs: content, context and your child.
Content is self explanatory. What are our children watching? Can they make sense of it? Will they try to imitate what happens on screen? Could they learn from it? Are they learning what we think they are learning, Guernsey said.
As to context, What would our children be doing if they were not watching a video? Where are they watching? Is an adult helping them figure out what they see? Are they really watching, or is the TV background noise? How does the time our children spend with media compare to the time they spend on other activities? Are they getting enough quiet time for pretend play, she said.
The answers to these questions are covered in the book. First, you cant substitute a parents attention and interaction with a video. However, there are times when a parent isnt going to be giving a child his or her undivided attention in any case.
The most surprising thing I learned was about the impact of background noise on a childs development. I used to have the radio on every morning, listening to morning talk shows. I have learned that background noise can have a whole host of adverse affects on children and now I try to limit how much time I have the radio on in the morning, Guernsey said.
The bottom line, Know your own child and be very aware of what that child is watching and what they are taking away from each video, Guernsey said.