Watching television can be beneficial, according to researchers who are examining how passive screen use affects a young child’s development.
The amount of television shows aimed at infants has grown over the previous 30 years. Screen time among infants (ages 0 to 2) doubled between 1997 and 2014.
Recent research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology investigated the influence of passive screen usage on the cognitive development of a young kid. According to the study, screen exposure—whether from a TV or a mobile device—can be advantageous depending on the circumstances.
Researchers from Paris Nanterre University and the University of Portsmouth in France examined 478 research that had been published in the past 20 years. Their research revealed that, especially for young infants, early exposure to television may be harmful to play, language development, and executive functioning.
Dr. Eszter Somogyi from the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth said: “We’re used to hearing that screen exposure is bad for a child and can do serious damage to their development if it’s not limited to say less than an hour a day. While it can be harmful, our study suggests the focus should be on the quality or context of what a child is watching, not the quantity.”
She continues, “Weak narrative, fast pace editing, and complex stimuli can make it difficult for a child to extract or generalize information. But when screen content is appropriate for a child’s age, it’s likely to have a positive effect, particularly when it’s designed to encourage interaction.”
Studies have also shown that watching television with a parent or other adult nearby is better for kids since they can interact with them and ask them questions.
“Families differ a lot in their attitudes toward and the use of media,” explained Dr. Somogyi.
“These differences in the viewing context play an important role in determining the strength and nature of TV’s impact on children’s cognitive development. Watching television with your child and elaborating and commenting on what is viewed can help enhance their understanding of the content, reinforcing their learning during educational programs. Coviewing can also contribute to the development of their conversation skills and provides children with a role model for appropriate television viewing behavior.”
While the right type of content can do more good than harm, the study warns watching TV shouldn’t replace other learning activities, such as socializing. Instead, it is imperative to inform caregivers of children younger than 3 about the risks associated with prolonged exposure to screen viewing in the wrong context.
The authors recommend reinforcing contexts that promote learning, such as viewing chosen age-adapted content, viewing with adult supervision, and not having a second device or TV screen on in the background.
Dr. Bahia Guellaï, from the Department of Psychology at Paris Nanterre University, added: “The important ‘take home message’ here is that caregivers should keep in mind new technologies. Television or smartphones should be used as potential tools to complement some social interactions with their young children but not to replace it.
“I think the most important challenge of our societies for future generations is to make adults and young people aware of the risk of an unconsidered or inappropriate use of screen-use. This will help in preventing situations in which screens are used as the new type of child-minding, as it has been during the pandemic lockdowns in different countries.
“I am optimistic with the concept of finding an equilibrium between the rapid spread of new technological tools and the preservation of the beautiful nature of human relationships.”
Reference: “Effects of screen exposure on young children’s cognitive development: A review” by Bahia Guellai, Eszter Somogyi, Rana Esseily and Adrien Chopin, 17 August 2022, Frontiers in Psychology.