Encouraging Imaginative Play for Kids
How limiting kids' TV-viewing time benefits children
Studies have shown that too much early television exposure may lead to attention problems in children. Finding alternatives to television and video games, like imaginative play, may take a little more time and effort in the beginning, but all family members will appreciate the rewards in the long run.
“Early television exposure is associated with attention problems at age seven,” explains Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a researcher at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, and lead author of a recent study on the topic.
He explains that efforts to limit television viewing in early childhood are important and additional research is needed in this area. Dr. Christakis conducted a research study to determine if early television exposure (at ages one and three) is indeed associated with attention problems. The study, which appeared in the April issue of Pediatrics, included data on 1278 one-year-old children and 1345 three-year-old children.
By age seven, 10 percent of children who participated in the study had attention problems, such as difficulty concentrating, acting restless and impulsive, and being easily confused.
Although the researchers did not evaluate what shows the children watched, Dr. Christakis points out that content wasn’t likely to be the culprit. “Instead,” he says, “fast-paced visual images typical of most TV programming may alter normal brain development.”
“The newborn brain develops very rapidly during the first two to three years of life. It’s really being “wired” during that time,” Christakis explains. Too much stimulation during this critical period “can create habits of the mind that are ultimately deleterious,” Christakis says, noting that if this theory is true, the brain changes could be permanent, but children with attention problems can be taught to compensate.
“It all begins with the parents,” says Christine D’Amico, a life transition coach who works with people around issues such as career change, pregnancy, and parenting challenges.
“TV time will be reduced if you stick to your plan and don’t cave in when the going gets tough and put on the TV. Parents need to be committed and in a week or two the children will be completely in alignment with this new set of limits around TV. If you waffle in even the smallest way, your children will pick it up and push hard to get what they want—more time in front of the screen!” says D’Amico, who is also the author of Pregnant Woman’s Companion.
Instead, she recommends starting to limit TV time once both parents are really ready to hold tightly to their new set of limits. “Be sure both parents are on the same page with this. It won’t work if both are not on board,” she says.
Parents can explain to the children what is changing so they understand the new rules around screen time at home. “Then give them lots of options besides watching a screen. This will most likely involve your participation at some level depending upon the age of your child,” D’Amico adds.
“No matter what age one turns off the TV, parents will be surprised how much spontaneous and creative play develops. TV has an anesthetizing effect, and afterwards children can seem irritable, but play is soothing,” says Susan Isaacs Kohl, child development college instructor, parent consultant, and the author of The Best Things Parents Do.
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