No one can dispute that we live in a media saturated society. TVs are super-sized, Iphones are an additional accessory to the human hand, and IPads are on this year’s holiday list, if not already in everyone’s home.
Dinner reservations are booked on Open Table, couples are created on cyberspace and then separated via text message, and friends are found on Facebook and followed via Twitter. Land lines are obsolete and notes once written in a letter on stationary and sent through “snail mail” have morphed in to instant messages, texts, posts and now tweets.
While modern society has clearly made its share of advancements, at what cost does being “plugged in” effect the next generation? While busy Moms and Dads need their fix of phones and time to decompress in front of their TV, where do babies and toddlers fit in to the media mayhem?
Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ recommendations to discourage electronic media exposure to children under the age of 2, The Boston Globe’s, Derrick Z. Jackson, “…found that nearly half of children under age 1 watch nearly two hours a day of TV.” In Jackson’s recent editorial, “It’s still a no for toddlers and TV,” he includes shocking statics that report that “…Since 2005, the percentage of children 6 months to 23 months who have a television in their bedroom has grown from one in five to nearly one in three. Meanwhile, the percentage of children in the same age group who are being read to at least once a day has dropped from 58 percent in 2005 to 47 percent today.”
While some companies, such as Baby Einstein, promote electronics and/or tv shows for educational purposes, experts continue to remind parents that early exposure to media does not only lack a strong educational component but can have negative developmental and social repercussions.
Jackson’s editorial on toddlers’ excessive TV watching includes advice from Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital. Rich explains that organic forms of exploration, entertainment and education are easier for children to learn from then video and are more beneficial in promoting “…problem-solving socialization.”
So if the boob tube is not going to assist children in further developing their language skills, with videos and other electronics serving as a temporary baby sitter, where does that leave tired Moms and Dads so desperately attempting to check even one thing off their growing to do list?
Despite the temptation to plug your babies and toddlers in to TV, try to better manage your expectations, assessing what is truly realistic to accomplish each day–a feat that is a constant struggle for most busy families, and your typical Type A personality city slickers. Replace TV and videos with more authentic forms of learning. Read to your little ones, play music so the babies can listen and your toddlers can dance. Provide children with props that encourage them to use their imagination–something this generation is sometimes stripped of since there is so much media to “make believe” for them.
Most importantly, allow children to “play.” An article in the Huffington Post by Darell Hammond explains that this generation is not often encouraged to explore or inspired to create due to “parental paranoia,” over structured play and media driven distractions. Give your curious crawler an obstacle course of pillows and play mats to tackle, or provide your active toddler with the tools to make a culinary creation with a plastic bowl, handful of cheerios and spatula. It is amazing what magic your little muscian can make with a tupperware containter and spoon, or the architectural masterpiece with some empty boxes and stacking cups.
Let them be your sous chefs in the kitchen, or your little helpers around the house, as you load the dishwasher or throw a batch of laundry in the washing machine. Speak to your baby, letting him or her know what you are doing throughout your day. As babies turn to toddlers and approach 12-14 months, you will notice that they will start to mirror and mimic actions, words and sounds. This organic form of exploration allows your babies to increase their vocabulary, progress developmentally and build confidence. Children will learn both independence as well as social skills, creativity as well as discipline. You may even find that soon, your toddlers will entertain themselves long enough for you to check off one “to do” on your often daunting daily list.