Television & Your Child's Language
The good, the bad and the snuggly
by Sue Scott
Television and Your Child’s Language: Big Bird, Bob the Builder, Brainy Baby, Barney, and Baby Einstein are not, in fact, brought to you by the Letter B. They are brought to you by people who want to entertain your child and make money while they do it. As parents, you decide what to let your children watch, when to let them watch it, and for how long. And your decisions are important.
It’s true that the people who want to make money through children’s programs have often put a significant effort into educating your children as well as entertaining them. Many television programs and DVDs claim to teach vocabulary and language to your babies and preschool children, but whether or not these best efforts benefit your child’s overall language development is still unclear. Universities and paediatric associations around the world are doing research to find out if “screen time” is actually helpful, neutral, or detrimental to your child’s development. This research is complicated, but it has been able to provide us with some basic guidelines to ensure that your child’s screen time is at least not hindering his or her language development. Most guidelines revolve around limiting the amount of time your child spends in front of the television and choosing programs carefully, but before we get to the specifics let’s think about language for a moment.What is language?
At its core, communication involves the interaction between two people. When learning to communicate, your child learns to listen and respond to others. Your child must also learn that when he or she communicates (by gesturing, pointing, or saying a word) that someone will respond! A television screen cannot do this. Even computer games that respond back to the user are contrived and unnatural models of communication.
There is no way that screen time can replace the complex, nuanced and creative language interactions of real people. And since the young brain is specifically wired to decode the marvelous complexity of human language and communication, we want to make sure we’re giving these young minds opportunities to do this learning while their brains are most open to it.Important Tip:
The absolute best way for babies, toddlers, and young children to develop their language skills is for them to spend time interacting with real live people. Children need to explore the real world, and they need to have adults close by who can help them understand what they are seeing, touching, smelling, and hearing. They need adults to talk to them, to use words and to listen for their responses. Children were originally designed to learn language in this way and it is still the best way – by far and without question.Screen Time For Children Under Two:
Babies and toddlers who are under two years old do not benefit from spending time in front of the screen. In fact, some research is showing that they may be at risk for delayed vocabulary development and shorter attention spans if they spend too much time watching television or DVDs. The reality is that sometimes new Moms and Dads put their very young children in front of the television to catch a few important sanity-saving moments so they can get something done or relax. If you need to do this, try to limit television time to a half-hour per day, and choose slow-paced programs with simple language such as Barney, Clifford, and Blues Clues.Screen Time for Two to Five-Year-Olds:
If your child is between the ages of two and five, appropriate amounts of time spent watching carefully chosen television programs or DVDs will not be detrimental to her, and may help her to learn some vocabulary and language concepts. And you might get a chance to make dinner! The Canadian Paediatric Society states that screen time for preschoolers should be limited to a maximum of one hour per day. To make the most of this hour of screen time, choose programs that:
• Present everyday topics and events
• Provide clear language
• Represent a variety of cultural role models
• Encourage cooperative problem-solving
• Encourage imagination and role playing (this is for the older child)
• Avoid violence—even slapstick or cartoon violence
Some examples of programs you may like to choose include: Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, Arthur, Mighty Machines, Trash Titans, Franklin, Tiga Talk, and Kids’ CBC programming.Remembering Your Options:
You are the best language teacher for your child. When you use language to describe what is happening, what you are doing, what your child is feeling (etc! etc!), you are a being a brilliant language teacher. Book reading, playing with your child, outings to the park, including your child in the chores (okay, I know it takes ten times as long)... these are excellent language learning times. And if your child is watching the television and your dinner is already made, then perhaps you can snuggle up and watch the show together. Your comments will enhance this language learning experience enormously.Good websites:www.cps.ca
(Canadian Paediatric Society)www.screensmart.ca
(Screen Smart—Helping Families Manage Media)Sue Scott, M.Sc., is a Registered Speech-Language Pathologist who has been working with children for over twenty years.