The number do small children under five who have increasing exposure to audio visual media, such as TV, video, tablets and the like is growing. There also appears to be a growing trend for such media to be used as pasifers in as much as children end up watching TV whilst they are eating to keep them busy/quiet, as well as in the evening. In many households stories at bed time are via video and similar media instead of being read a book by a parent.
There is growing evidence about the harm these practices are having on the development of children.
There is a growing body of research showing the problems early viewing of media is having on children. For example a series of research studies have shown that exposure to television (TV), videos and similar media before 3 years of age is associated with later problems with language development, cognition and thinking, attention spans and attention deficit disorders, executive functioning such including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning, the execution of tasks and also later school achievement. The problem early years media exposure is considered to be so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under the age of 2 should not have any access to media.
A new study published in Pediatrics this week adds to weight of this body of evidence by demonstrating that early years exposure to media is also linked to emotional problems for children, particularly with their ability to regulate their own emotions. The study by researchers from the Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, and the Seattle Children's Research Institute, University of Washington, looked at the outcomes for 7450 children aged between 9 months and 2 years old. They found that on average two year olds are watching 2.3 hours of media a day and as a result of this study they defined excessive media watching as 2 hours or more a day.
The researchers looked at a whole raft of factors to explain poor emotion regulation abilities in the infants and toddlers including wether a parent smoked, the marital status of the parent(s) single, married, divorced, employment status, number of siblings etc. However the one consistent finding they had for poor emotion regulation ability was media exposure. Even a mild increase of just 10-15 minutes extra a day had an impact on the ability of the infant to deal with their own emotions.
Now at the moment it is not clear why this is the case nor exactly what long term effect this is having, but watching TV and video certainly is having a significant negative effect on a child's ability to regulate their own emotions. We do know that the habits formed at these early ages can often last a lifetime and the habit of passive media watching and low levels of emotion regulation ability are habits to avoid.
Radesky, J.S. Et al (2014) Infant Self-Regulation and Early Childhood Media Exposure. Pediatrics April 2014. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-2367