Want kids who are smarter and thinner? Keep them away from the television set as toddlers. A shocking study from child experts at the Université de Montréal, the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the University of Michigan, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, has found that television exposure at age two forecasts negative consequences for kids, ranging from poor school adjustment to unhealthy habits.
“We found every additional hour of TV exposure among toddlers corresponded to a future decrease in classroom engagement and success at math, increased victimization by classmates, have a more sedentary lifestyle, higher consumption of junk food and, ultimately, higher body mass index,” says lead author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a psychosocial professor at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center.
The goal of the study was to determine the impact of TV exposure at age 2 on future academic success, lifestyle choices and general well being among children. “Between the ages of two and four, even incremental exposure to television delayed development,” says Dr. Pagani.
A total of 1,314 kids took part in the investigation, which was part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure. Parents were asked to report how much TV their kids watched at 29 months and at 53 months in age. Teachers were asked to evaluate academic, psychosocial and health habits, while body mass index (BMI) was measured at 10 years old.
“Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and formation of behaviour,” warns Dr. Pagani. “High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits. Despite clear recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting less than two hours of TV per day — beyond the age of two — parents show poor factual knowledge and awareness of such existing guidelines.”
According to the investigation, watching too much TV as toddlers later forecasted:
- a seven percent decrease in classroom engagement;
- a six percent decrease in math achievement (with no harmful effects on later reading);
- a 10 percent increase in victimization by classmates (peer rejection, being teased, assaulted or insulted by other students);
- a 13 percent decrease in weekend physical activity;
- a nine percent decrease in general physical activity;
- a none percent higher consumption of soft drinks;
- a 10 percent peak in snacks intake;
- a five percent increase in BMI.
“Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven and a half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting,” says Dr. Pagani. “Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood and for parents to heed guidelines on TV exposure from the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
Since TV exposure encourages a sedentary lifestyle, Dr. Pagani says, television viewing must be curbed for toddlers to avoid the maintenance of passive mental and physical habits in later childhood: “Common sense would have it that TV exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks which foster cognitive, behavioral, and motor development.”
“What’s special about this study is how it confirms suspicions that have been out there and shown by smaller projects on one outcome or another. This study takes a comprehensive approach and considers many parental, pediatric and societal factors simultaneously,” she adds.
This research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
The article, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, was authored by Linda S. Pagani, Caroline Fitzpatrick and Tracie A. Barnett of the Université de Montréal and its affiliated Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Canada in collaboration with Eric Dubow of the University of Michigan in the United States.
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And They All Lived Together In a Little Row Boat…Clap! Clap!: How Clapping Games Improve Cognition And Motor Skills In Children
BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL, April 28, 2010 – A researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) conducted the first study of hand-clapping songs, revealing a direct link between those activities and the development of important skills in children and young adults, including university students.
“We found that children in the first, second and third grades who sing these songs demonstrate skills absent in children who don’t take part in similar activities,” explains Dr. Idit Sulkin a member of BGU’s Music Science Lab in the Department of the Arts.
“We also found that children who spontaneously perform hand-clapping songs in the yard during recess have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors.”
Dr. Warren Brodsky, the music psychologist who supervised her doctoral dissertation, said Sulkin’s findings lead to the presumption that “children who don’t participate in such games may be more at risk for developmental learning problems like dyslexia and dyscalculia.
“There’s no doubt such activities train the brain and influence development in other areas. The children’s teachers also believe that social integration is better for these children than those who don’t take part in these songs.”
As part of the study, Sulkin went to several elementary school classrooms and engaged the children in either a board of education sanctioned music appreciation program or hand-clapping songs training – each lasting a period of 10 weeks.
“Within a very short period of time, the children who until then hadn’t taken part in such activities caught up in their cognitive abilities to those who did,” she said. But this finding only surfaced for the group of children undergoing hand-clapping songs training. The result led Sulkin to conclude that hand-clapping songs should be made an integral part of education for children aged six to 10, for the purpose of motor and cognitive training.
During the study, “Impact of Hand-clapping Songs on Cognitive and Motor Tasks,” Dr. Sulkin interviewed school and kindergarten teachers, visited their classrooms and joined the children in singing. Her original goal, as part of her thesis, was to figure out why children are fascinated by singing and clapping up until the end of third grade, when these pastimes are abruptly abandoned and replaced with sports.
“This fact explains a developmental process the children are going through,” Dr. Sulkin observes. “The hand-clapping songs appear naturally in children’s lives around the age of seven, and disappear around the age of 10. In this narrow window, these activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.”
Sulkin says that no in-depth, long-term study has been conducted on the effects that hand-clapping songs have on children’s motor and cognitive skills. However, the relationship between music and intellectual development in children has been studied extensively, prompting countless parents to obtain a “Baby Mozart” CD for their children.
Nevertheless, the BGU study demonstrates that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart music (.i.e., the ‘Mozart Effect’) does not improve spatial task performance compared to 10 minutes of hand-clapping songs training or 10 minutes of exposure to silence.
Lastly, Sulkin discovered that hand-clapping song activity has a positive effect on adults: University students who filled out her questionnaires reported that after taking up such games, they became more focused and less tense.
“These techniques are associated with childhood, and many adults treat them as a joke,” she said. “But once they start clapping, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood.”
Sulkin grew up in a musical home. Her father, Dr. Adi Sulkin, is a well-known music educator who, in the 1970s and 1980s, recorded and published over 50 cassettes and videos depicting Israeli children’s play-songs, street-songs, holiday and seasonal songs, and singing games targeting academic skills.
“So quite apart from the research experience, working on this was like a second childhood,” she noted.
Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
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