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The Real Reason Why TV Is Bad for the Kids

"Books are good for children." "TV is bad for children." Everyone seems to know
this. In the same way that we know that we should be eating lots of fruits and
vegetables and limiting sweets, we all know that kids should spend a lot of time
with books and relatively little time with TV.

But why? Can't kids learn just as much from TV as they do from books? There
is no doubt that TV can be educational. But one of the unforeseen
consequences of TV viewing is reducing how much parents talk with their
children. And diminished parent-child interaction can have negative effects on
children, especially when they are young.

In a recent study of toddlers and pre-schoolers, we observed mothers and their


children while they read books, watched a pro-social TV program, or played
with toys. We found TV viewing suppressed both the amount and quality of
mother-child communication. That is, moms made relatively few comments to
their children while co-viewing. When they did speak, their comments were
often unrelated to what their child said, thereby creating an unproductive
exchange that could hinder children's opportunity for learning.

Moms who read books to their children, however, not only talked significantly
more but also used a very high-quality form of communication that included
asking questions, labelling objects, affirming their child, and responding to their
child's statements or questions with relevant information. It is important to note
that the increased quantity and quality of communication was not due to the fact
that moms were reading the words on the pages. Instead, this difference
reflected the communication that occurred above and beyond the actual reading
that the mother did with the child.

Playing with toys also elicited a high amount of communication, including some
high-quality forms of interaction. Although not better than books, toy playing
was significantly better than shared TV viewing at encouraging communication.

With these results in mind, let's consider the child who spends a good chunk of
the day watching TV. From this perspective, the problem is not necessarily what
content, either good or bad, the child has experienced (of course content does
make a difference too). Instead, the problem is what this child is missing. Young
children who watch lots of TV may be missing out on valuable - even crucial -
interactions with parents during a critical point in their development. Parent-
child interaction, even with children who can't yet speak, is vital to children's
healthy development.
The American Academy of Pediatrics just released their updated TV guidelines
for children ages 2 and under. In their statement, they discourage all TV viewing
for children in this age group. Part of the justification for their recommendation
is that TV viewing reduces parent-child communication.

Some parents may believe that they can't offer their children the kinds of
educational experiences that TV provides. But they are wrong. Children learn
the best from real people, especially people who are important to them. When
parents talk with their children, they not only promote their language
development but also teach their children that they are valued and important.
Reading books and turning off the TV can facilitate these positive interactions.