If you are anything like me, there are times when you leave the pediatrician’s office and want to kick yourself for not asking her the questions you had in mind. Or perhaps you read about a topic or care deeply about a topic pertaining to child development, but are unable to have the conversation with your pediatrician. Well aren’t you glad Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a noted pediatrician from Seattle Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine could join this blog! This is courtesy of a question and answer piece that was at NPR website entitled “Q&A: Blocks, Play, Screen Time and The Infant Mind.”
Dr. Christakis covers some big topic areas for today’s inquiring parents. Perhaps you know that the small children who play with blocks have consistently been found throughout the research to have greater language development skills. He relates it to the way in which blocks tend to facilitate play with children and their parent. In particular, when there is adult child interaction over blocks, language development is greatly enhanced. He talks about how this is true with not just blocks, but any toy that facilitate verbal interaction between parent and child. When Mom or Dad talk to little Susie about what she’s building-the colors, the height, the interesting form, etc, Susie then has this in her comprehension and vocabulary. Blocks are also conducive to solo play. Children love them and get absorbed by them, but are not left with the overstimulation that occurs with too much media.
Christakis fields questions about children and media use, and what is an appropriate time frame for use. Certainly, he sees a oversaturation when it comes to media usage and children. He reports that a typical preschooler today watches four and half hours of television, while they are only usually up around 12 hours. Twenty to thirty percent of their time is spent in front of a screen! He reports that within the last ten years, 90% of children under two are watching television. This is a huge difference from ten years ago and flies in the face of guidelines given from the American Pediatric Association, that advise no television until after aged two. Media saturation upsets the natural process of things in the body. He says the research shows that watching quick sequences of television interferes with executive functioning. While the brain will process the information, it taxes it and over stimulates the senses. There is also an issue of which activities were usurped to make screen use a priority for the child. Not condemning the digital age by any means, he encourages parents to make thoughtful and age appropriate choices for their children’s usage. He encourages parents to ask themselves what is lost otherwise. It is a whole lot more than language development…..