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Could Today’s Fast-paced TV Put Your Child’s Brain at Risk?

Don’t many of us suspect that TV and video games are bad for young children? We might, but research shows that children under the age of five typically watch more than four hours of TV a day. Not only that, today’s children begin their TV viewing at 4 months, rather than four years as it did in the 1970’s. Just what does this prolonged media viewing do to children’s developing brains? This question is precisely what father and paediatrician-researcher, Dimitri Christakis, set out to study.

Christakis’s research showed that regular exposure to frenetic media images changes the way a child’s emerging neural networks develop. Over time, chronic exposure to certain kinds of TV puts children at risk for attention problems. According to Christakis, slow paced educational programs like Mr. Rogers show 0% risk of creating inattention. However, fast-paced entertainment programs like Baby Einstein present a 60% risk of creating inattention and violent programs show 110% risk of creating increasing inattention.

Just as fast, violent TV threatens brain development in young children, Christakis also found that interactive play enhances it. Simple activities like stacking, counting and building with blocks give children a brain advantage. One study showed that young children who engaged in parent-child block play for 20-30 minutes a day demonstrated stronger language development than those who did not. What does this research mean for today’s harried parent? First of all, the right type of slow-paced, educational program may not harm your child. Second, as little as 20 minutes a day of interactive child-parent play can boost brain development in the early years when it matters most.

To find out more about Christakis’ research watch this video to his 2011 TED Talk.

Lisa Scalapino is a School Psychologist and Educational Consultant. Questions? You can reach Lisa at

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