Pop in That Tape

Six ways to manage your toddler's video time.

When the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study recently that linked television viewing by young children to attention deficit disorder problems later in childhood, they neglected to offer any parental guidance
on what to do. Let’s face it: TV and videos are an integral part of a busy Mom’s life, and moms would like to be able to keep letting their toddlers spend time in front of the screen. What parents need is advice on how to manage the activity better.

The study didn’t say “No” to all video viewing, and there are plenty of multi-media options that can help children learn. To make the most of your toddler’s television time, I suggest the following six practices:

1. Look for Slower, More Natural Paced Programs.
The study published in the April 5th issue of Pediatrics pointed to the problem of rapidly changing images, which pervades most of the programming available to toddlers today. The study indicated that the quick changes may overstimulate the child and lead to focusing issues. Look for videos with a calm, more natural pace. When visual images stay on the screen for an extended period of time, the child has the opportunity to focus and develop critical attention skills.

2. Incorporate Reality-Based Programming Into Your Video Library.
As toddlers are learning about the world around them, it’s helpful to have real pictures, rather than cartoons, to put the labels and function of the objects they are learning about into context. When children see realistic images on the screen, they will be better able to identify those objects when they see them in real life.

3. Select Programs That Foster Interactivity.
Many television and video programs create a passive activity to do all the thinking for the child. Any time the child is involved in this type of passive activity, the amount of time the child could be developing creative and cognitive skills is cut down. However, interactive programs that encourage the child to solve a problem, find an object, compare sizes, identify colors and shapes, and build memory skills can be productive.

4. Pick Programs with Show-and-Tell Features.

Television has long been the medium of choice when it comes to demonstrating ‘how-to’ do something. Much of children’s programming however, does not take advantage of the screen’s power in this area. Look for videos where children are given instructions to sing, jump, clap, make hand signals, etc. Make sure they are given enough time to try the action on their own, or that the video encourages children to “join in” with what they see on the screen.

5. Coordinate Parent Child Activities.
According to the 1999 statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers for healthy brain growth and development of appropriate social, emotional and cognitive skills.”

Although it’s tempting to use the VCR as an electronic babysitter when you have something else you need to do, use your child’s video collection as a launching point for games and discussions with your child. Remember, children love to watch a program over and over again.

You only need to watch a show once or twice to be able to reenact it with your child, sing the songs when the TV is off, or discuss with your child what he or she saw on the tape.

6. Choose Shorter Programs.
A big part of the study in Pediatrics pointed to the amount of time young children are watching television. Manage your child’s time in front of the screen based on your schedule, their interests and what you want them to learn. Try limiting video watching to 30-minute segments. Most videos for young children are about this length, but be sure to manage the remote control, too. Even very young children quickly figure out that the rewind button means more TV time!

Educational and “edutainment” videos have a place on the family video shelf, as long as Mom and Dad have the ultimate control over what their children watch, when and how long.