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TV for Tots?

Experts talk about the pros and cons of letting very young children watch TV.

TV and Parent-Child Discussions

"There is so much to be learned from TV, if used appropriately," says Nicole Sachs, co-founder and managing partner of tinyguides, LLC. The Bedford, N.Y.-based company designs educational DVDs intended to help parents get their children past childhood milestones such as a preschooler's first day of school or a toddler's trip to the doctor.

"TV can make kids feel safe. It can teach them that there are other kids who are ‘just like them,'" Sachs says. "If parents do not abuse television and select quality programming, TV can be a very valuable educational tool for children."

"It is a great jumping-off point for parents to discuss issues with their kids and relate them to something they've watched together," she tells WebMD.

"We are taking the experiences that kids learn so naturally from -- playground interaction, school peer group influence, sibling communication -- and literally channeling them into a positive modeling experience for kids at home," Sachs adds.

TV Through the Years

From the days of Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and Captain Kangaroo, there has always been TV for tots; so what's all the excitement about?

"Sesame Street was criticized in the 1970s by individuals who said there is too much action and we will never have kids with long attention spans because of all the shifting from one story to another," McCabe points out. "There are some people who would argue that Sesame Street is very good at helping kids with the alphabet and numbers."

The bottom line is that "whenever there is something new," McCabe says, there is, "a group of people who are very wary."

Sachs adds that today "there is just more variety, and within that variety there have been some great breakthroughs" -- such as the enhanced interaction that can turn a TV into an electronic box for learning.

TV Viewing for Toddlers

TV for toddlers often gets a bad rap because mass media programming for children uses quick cartoon images that keep kids mesmerized, but doesn't require them to show any real attention span, Sachs says.

Exactly how TV viewing can cause attention problems is not fully understood, Haller says. "It is posited that when children are very young, their brains are still getting wired about how the world looks and sounds.

"TV comprises high impact images that are discontinued from one instance to another. Boom, you are in France! Boom, you are in England!" Haller says. "People move from place to place seemingly by magic and the young brain may become wired to expect novelty, bright colors, and changes in the environment that happen rapidly -- which can lead to problems being able to sit, and pay attention, and focus."

But the issue is not black and white to Haller. "One of the good things is that if you put kids in front of the TV, sit and watch with them, you can talk to kids about what they are seeing and you can watch how they are interacting with it.

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