Five Conditions that Should Generally Occur to Use the TV with Babies and Toddlers
Dr. Robert Titzer
I have been speaking out publicly against babies and toddlers watching TV for more than 15 years – which was before the American Academy of Pediatrics issued their statement and long before the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood existed. I have always been against parents showing too much television or mindless shows for their babies and toddlers. I originally made the first Your Baby Can Read video because I did not want my own baby to watch entertainment-based TV shows or videos.
More than 20 years ago – as a busy parent who was working full-time and attending graduate school – I made the original YBCR videos for my own baby because I found that there were times when we were too busy to give her the amount of verbal stimulation that I believe babies need. The same was true when she was at the babysitter’s home. So, we used the videos in certain situations to help her learn language skills. We used the same approach with our second baby and she learned to read as well.
I believe that five conditions should generally occur when using TV with babies and toddlers:
- The DVD or TV show should be interactive – not passive.
- The DVD/TV show should be multi-sensory. In other words, what the baby sees and hears should go together. What the babies see and hear go together logically in YBCR, and we encourage the babies and toddlers to say the words and do physical actions related to the words. This multi-sensory approach is very important because infants and toddlers have thousands of new brain connections – called synapses – forming every second. Many of these new connections go from the visual cortex to the auditory cortex and to and from the somatosensory cortex if the babies do some action related to the word being shown. Many of the other baby DVDs actually show babies images while playing sounds (usually classical music) that do not go with those images. This means that the new synapses would not go together in a logical way.
- The DVD/TV show should actually teach the children something with lasting value. Many of the TV shows or baby videos only entertain the baby and do not teach much content.
- The DVD or TV show should use spoken and written language and/or music (mostly with lyrics). There is a “window of opportunity” for learning language skills. According to research published in “From Neurons to Neighborhoods” the number of synaptic connections related to language acquisition peaks around 11 months of age. Hart and Risley (1984) did a landmark study showing that the most important factor correlated with a child’s vocabulary at age 11, was the number of words spoken to the child by age 3. This was more important than the parents’ IQs, socio-economic factors, or the child’s IQ. The DVDs or TV shows should teach language skills (or important musical skills) when actual people are not talking with the baby.
- The DVD or TV show should be better than other options available to the parent. If you are busy on the phone, cooking, cleaning, attending another child, or otherwise occupied and not paying much attention to your baby, then the DVD or TV show may be a better option for your child as long as the first four conditions are met. If you are full of energy and you have free time, then obviously it would be better for you to lovingly interact with your baby while talking to your baby as much as you can. If you are tired – but not that busy – you could sit with your baby and interact while you watch the DVD together. Obviously, the baby should enjoy the experience of watching the DVD or TV show or you should find an alternative option.
All television programming is not the same. As adults, we know that if we watch a reality TV show that we are watching an entertainment-based show and we aren’t likely to learn much of lasting value. We could also watch programs that are designed to educate or inform us. The same is true for babies where the program can simply entertain the baby or it could possibly help the child’s vocabulary or teach something with a lasting value. The main difference is that babies’ brains are developing much more rapidly than adult brains, so it is more important to make better use of your baby’s time since about 75% of the mass of the brain is formed by age two.
Dr. Bob Titzer