From the earliest moments of life, children begin to learn the fundamentals of language.
The most powerful influence for effective language development are the verbal interactions with caregivers.
Author Marie Winn, in her book "The Plug-In Drug," summarized the influence of television on language development by stating, "the major effects are indirect, resulting from the varied verbal experiences the child will not have had as a result of his or her time-consuming involvement with television — the hundreds or thousands of words not spoken and responded to by another human being, the question is not asked and answered, the conversations not had."
The negative aspect of television on the first two years of brain development, in terms of displacing other activities that the child would have otherwise engaged in, are of such great concern that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently indicated that children two years and younger should not watch any television whatsoever.
But despite this edict from the American Academy of Pediatrics, most parents seem to be deluded into lobbying for and seeking out television programs with appropriate content often as a matter of convenience, since television clearly serves as a babysitter of sorts for parents feeling time-constrained.
But while content is clearly an important issue, the amount of time a child spends watching television is equally important, for reasons described above. The fundamental here is that when children watch television they are not engaging in other fundamentally important activities for cognitive and social development.
1. Children need to be exploring their physical world. They need to be learning the fundamental laws of physics by manipulating objects.
2. Play becoming fantasy play is critically important for brain development. Specifically, this type of play paves the way for understanding symbolism, which is the cornerstone of reading and, indeed, mathematical skills as well.
3. Television limits a child’s motivation to explore and to engage himself in creative activities. Almost without regard to television content, what is being fed into a child’s brain when watching television requires very little thought and does not allow any room for questioning and the development of alternative understandings or explanations.
4. Language development also suffers in children watching television. To learn the appropriate usage of language, the child must experience appropriate responses from those around him during his attempts to use language. Children learn language by modifying their understanding based upon the responses they receive and even the corrections offered. Television does not provide this important feedback.
5. The important development of social skills, understanding the consequences of one’s actions, learning to vary ones behavior in response to particular social experiences, are limited in the child who spends time watching television. There is no feedback from the television with respect to a child’s behavior leading to compromise of the so-called "emotional quotient" (EQ).
6. Fantasy and creativity are critically important for appropriate brain development. The ability of a child to fantasize, to create alternative scenarios and to explore "other realities" ultimately creates a brain that can think outside the box, paving the way for the ability to achieve novel solutions to problems and creative ways of responding to academic challenges later in life. These are experiences a child has every day during creative and imaginative play.
As I explain in Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten, creative and imaginative play ultimately creates a comfort zone in which a child is able to function, learning from his trials and errors and becoming more comfortable with the option of failure.
None of this activity takes place if a child is engrossed in television where fantasies are spoon-fed and provide no opportunity for alternative explanations.
Further, preschoolers typically have difficulty in differentiating between fantasy and reality. Their understanding of what constitutes the real world can be strongly influenced by what they observe on television.
David Perlmutter, M.D., FACN is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of nutritional influences in neurological disorders. A board-certified neurologist, Dr. Perlmutter is the author of bestselling books including Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment and The Better Brain Book .
Dr. Perlmutter has appeared on 20/20, Larry King Live, CNN, Fox News, Fox and Friends , the Today show, The Oprah Show, and The Early Show on CBS. He serves as medical director of the Perlmutter Health Center in Florida and is an adjunct instructor at the Institute for Functional Medicine.
Learn more about the brain in Walking for Brain Health
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