Your Clever Toddler in Week 69: Copying Behavior from the TV Screen
What your child learns this week
Your Child’s Brain in Week 69
You’ve likely heard that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under age 2 not watch TV or have any other form of screen time, for that matter. (And maybe you grumbled, wondering how you would make it through your first few years as a parent without your sitcoms on DVR.)
Besides the practical health reasons not to plop a kid in front of the flat screen—a growing brain’s need for human interaction to thrive, that whole childhood obesity problem—these trusted experts have a specific issue in mind when recommending viewing guidelines for toddlers at exactly your son or daughter’s age: At 14 months, children will actually copy behaviors they see on screens.
What the Research Shows
Researchers have questioned whether children can relate the activities they see on a miniature, two-dimensional screen to the real, three-dimensional world around them. Parents know that TV fascinates infants and toddlers: We can see their eyes light up and fixate on it when it’s switched on.
But might it be, wondered researchers, that it’s only the changing mosaic of colors on TV that holds babies’ attention? And if that’s true, what’s the harm in that? Visual attention alone does not mean that little ones derive any meaning from or remember what they view—or does it?
To find out, researchers relied on toddlers’ natural copycat skills: They let 120 subjects in two age groups (14 months and 24 months) view a TV program, then tested whether the children would imitate what they saw. Here’s what they observed:
- In the first trial, the toddlers watched an adult on the screen pick up and then bang together two wooden dowels. Then, with little delay, they were given the same dowels to see if they would copy the adult’s action.
- In the second trial—this one focused on deferred imitation—toddlers watched the same dowel-banging action on TV but were not given their own dowels until they returned to the lab after a 24-hour delay.
The results? Researchers found that lag time or no, both age groups consistently imitated what they saw on TV. Clearly, these very young children were able to understand, remember, and repeat what they’d witnessed.
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