Debates have ragedÂ over the last couple of years on the effects (detrimental or not) of television, computer games (violent or not) and the Internet on a child’s cognitive development. Taking excerpts fromÂ a review article that providesÂ an excellent summary of theÂ topic, Jonah LehrerÂ makes it clear: for a child’s cognitiveÂ development, the medium doesn’t matter but the content is crucial.
First, an explanation of why this is:
In the same way that there is no single effect of “eating food,“Â there is also no single effect of “watching television” or “playingÂ video games.” Different foods contain different chemical components and thus lead to different physiological effects; differentÂ kinds of media have different content, task requirements,and attentional demands and thus lead to different behavioralÂ effects.
And some findings on how development is affected by various children’s shows:
- Sesame Street is associated with “a wide assortment of positive outcomes, including improved performance on measures of school readiness, expressive language capabilities, numeracy skills and vocabulary size”.
- Similar effects have been found forÂ Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer and Clifford the Big Red Dog.
- Teletubbies is associated with the slowing down of early education.
- Material targeted to infants, such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby are awful: “each hour of daily viewing between the ages of 8 and 16 months led to a significant decrease in the pace of language development” and a 17 point decrease in language skills (in comparison, “daily reading with a parent was associated with a 7 point increase in the language skills of 2 year olds”).
As forÂ video games, action games have been associated with “a number of enhancements in vision, attention, cognition, and motor control”.
TheÂ article goes on toÂ describe the requiredÂ format for children’s television shows that wish to promote early literacy:Â “the use of child-directed speech, elicitation ofÂ responses, object labeling, and/or a coherent storybook-likeÂ framework throughout”. In other words, they need to “engage the young viewer,Â [â€¦] elicit direct participation from the child, provide a strong language model, avoid overloading the child with distracting stimulation, and include a well-articulated narrative structure”.