If you want to understand more about the effects of television on the brain, you need to watch this TEDx talk by Dr Dimitri Christakis…the science around television and its effect on children and concentration astound me. Not because any of it is counter-intuitive, but because television is as powerful as it is. Television is a [large] part of most children’s lives here in the US and this presentation of fact and observations may change what you do at home. Although it seems like there is no controversy here, last week I stumbled upon one mom proclaiming the benefits for TV at bedtime from infancy up.

We gotta get the word out.

A few take-aways on media and early learning:

  • Early experiences condition the mind. Connections between brain cells change based on experiences our children have while their brain triples in size between birth and age 3.
  • Initiation of television viewing is now (on average) 4 months of age.
  • Prolonged exposure to rapid image changes (like on a TV show designed for an infant) during critical periods of brain development may precondition the mind to expect high levels of stimulation. This may then make the pace of real life less able to sustain our children’s attention. The more hours a child views rapid-fire television, the more likely they will have attention challenges later in life.
  • Cognitive stimulation (reading books or going to a museum) reduces the likelihood for attention challenges later in life.
  • What content your child watches on TV matters: the more frenetic or violent the TV show, the more likely your child will have attention challenges later in life. Television shows that move at a typical pace may be far better for our children.
  • New studies (using mice) may demonstrate that learning suffers with excess TV viewing.
  • We need more real time play for children. (Get out the blocks or get outside!)

I’d suggest the 15 minutes or so it takes to view this video might profoundly change your thinking about TV. Direct from the mouth of a father, pediatrician, and researcher, Dr. Dimitri Christakis explains how the brain develops, what television may do, and theorizes why ample time in front of the TV as an infant and/or toddler may reorganize how a children thinks and solves problems. More than anything, watching this made me want to reverse time and go back to do even more for my little boys and their developing brains. If only the daily museum trip was plausible…

Enjoy, leave any comments or questions, and I’ll wrangle up Dr. Christakis for specific answers, as needed.