Is TV Really That Bad?

DO choose programming carefully

There is good news too. Though it won't boost babies' brain power, television -- the right television -- can teach your older kids a thing or two. "Around age 2 or 3, TV starts to become beneficial," Dr. Christakis says. "There is no reason to be concerned about kids this age watching television, if it's not done in excess."

If you want your kid to learn, choose shows that incorporate or encourage the following, says Lisa Guernsey, author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five.

  • Straight-line storytelling, which takes kids from point A to point B with no flashbacks.
  • Participation, such as pauses built into the show during which kids can respond to a question.
  • Labeling, which means whatever is being discussed is visually present on the screen.
  • Engagement: If the characters and ideas in a program aren't interesting to kids, what's the point?
  • Repetition and review.
  • Nonviolent content.

A note about nonviolence: Common sense says your 2-year-old is not ready for a vampire movie. But on-screen violence can sneak into even a G-rated movie or Disney production. "Much of kids' TV shows violence as funny, which makes parents believe it's harmless," says Dr. Christakis. "A cartoon character gets hit in the head with a bowling ball, and his head pops right back up. But that's not what happens in real life -- that's violence without consequence, and it's harmful because young kids don't distinguish fantasy from reality."

Pacing is important too, experts say. You want to steer clear of fast cuts, quick edits, or anything that moves too rapidly for your young viewer to follow.

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