I just want to take a shower in peace! I remember saying this a lot when my kids were in that toddler period. You know that time around 12-24 months when you can’t leave them alone in a padded room because they will eat the walls or do some other unimaginable feat you never thought possible by a human child. Sometimes my solution would be to shower while they slept, except most often I would get distracted by the pile of dishes, clothes, garbage, toys that sucked up that precious time before I even knew what hit me. Other times I would haul the saucer into the bathroom and hope the spinning, jumping, beeping craziness would hold her for the 15 (or 30) minutes I so desperately needed and deserved! There is nothing like trying to soothe a screaming toddler with goofy faces and silly games while conditioning and trying not to fall. I just wanted to start my day more peacefully and slowly, which meant being alone in the bathroom from 6:30 to 7:00. What worked was PBS; actually it was the Wiggles. It was a baby free time-warp; without fail, she would watch without a fuss and I had my protected shower time. Did I feel a little bad when I saw her staring at the screen? Yeah. Did I need to? It depends on what else I’m doing at home.
There are so many fascinating research studies on television viewing and babies. Do babies learn new words from baby videos? Is educational programming like Blues Clues any different from baby-focused videos like Baby Einstein? Does TV viewing have a negative impact on attention in preschoolers? Do those baby video’s really promote language and social skills in babies?
As usual in science and in life the answer is it all depends. The age of the child, the type of programming, the number of hours of viewing, and if viewing occurs alone or with a caregiver are the primary variables to think about when making decisions about television viewing for children. There’s pretty much no evidence that supports any benefit from television viewing for babies under age two. It is actually this age group (around 8 to 16 months) where there is evidence that viewing baby-focused DVD’s may negatively impact learning new words (Zimmerman, 2007). A separate study that used a baby-focused DVD designed to teach new words showed that 12-18 month old babies did not learn the new words at above chance levels but babies did learn the new words when parents were asked to teach the words from the video in everyday interactions without watching the video (DeLoache, 2010). However, there is evidence for the benefits of co-viewing in children under age two; children who said the most new words from baby-focused DVD’s had parents who labeled most of the target words in the video and defined the words they knew their child did not know all while watching the video together (Fender, 2010, Mendelsohn 2010).
The findings of these studies are in line with social constructivist theories of child development where interactions between caregivers and children are the context for learning and development. For babies and toddlers, learning occurs in every reciprocal smile, shared gaze, and followed pointer finger. For preschoolers, learning occurs within enriched language environments that include conversations about the causes and consequences why a person acts or feels a certain way.
Sustained learning occurs within interaction between live humans who react to each other in real time with emotion, verbalizations, and body movements dependent upon their shared history and the context at the moment. These types of exchanges -which we do everyday with our kids -are special and cannot be duplicated by a video no matter how child-focused it claims to be.
Children and Media | Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics
The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017
Technology and Media. NAEYC