This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24, 2011 - no TV before 2

It's an old argument.

Socrates expressed doubts about literacy. Teach people to read, he said, and they won't have to remember anything. Their minds would get lazy. They would believe that just by decoding scrawls on paper, they had somehow gotten to the heart of some idea.

But real knowledge, real understanding, takes time and attention and deep thought.

He was right. And wrong.

It is true that few of us examine our lives as closely as Socrates examined his. And literacy does make it possible for relatively lazy people to think they know something big when they only know a few small things.

But current literacy research (see "Proust and the Squid," by Maryanne Wolfe) demonstrates that reading helps us think faster and better. We use the words and ideas of others as scaffolds. We climb them, then add to them.

Literacy is the foundation of shared knowledge. What we may lose in depth, we gain in breadth and height.

While there are few modern day Socrates, there are many sounding the alarm about the next breakthrough in thinking: technology.

According to a recent article in Wired Magazine (see www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/10/infant-tv-guidelines), "a decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that parents limit TV consumption by children under two years of age."

More recent and comprehensive research by the AAP confirms the original caution and extends it to all kinds of screen time. The bottom line: the best thing we can do for babies is talk to and touch them. Language literally builds their brains.

The second most potent strategy is play. Plunk a baby in front of a TV, DVD or PC or any other glowing screen and they get hypnotized. But it doesn't do anyone under the age of two any good, and may do them harm.

In fact, just letting kids entertain themselves has proven to be far better for their developing minds. They solve problems. They grow their imaginations and creativity.

What does happen if little ones watch too much TV?

Falling asleep in front of the tube leads to sleep disorders -- no matter how old you are. But passive screen watching has been linked to mood and behavior problems, and perhaps to attention deficit disorder.

A 2006 study by some Cornell researchers (see forum.johnson.cornell.edu/faculty/waldman/autism-waldman-nicholson-adilov.pdf) found that "approximately seventeen percent of the growth in autism in California and Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s is due to the growth of cable television." Not only that, in places where it rains a lot, more people watch TV, and autism rises.

Television, it seems, is a "trigger" for autism. Or, to work in the influence of too much rain, let's say it "precipitates" autism.

The main thing about kids up to the age of two is that if they're staring blankly at a screen, then probably nobody is talking to them. So programs and software that are sold as "educational" for this age group probably aren't.

Does this mean that technology is evil? No, it just means that kids don't really even understand what's happening on a screen until then. So before the age of two, talk, play, and read with them.

But what about after they're two? A 2001 study by the University of Massachusetts probing the effect of childhood viewing on adolescents (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11326591) found that "Viewing educational programs as preschoolers was associated with higher grades, reading more books, placing more value on achievement, greater creativity, and less aggression."

In other words, the content of the program was more important than the medium.

Library staff had an interesting discussion recently about the use of iPads in library storytimes. Should we or shouldn't we?

Here's my take: the core of our children's services remains the celebration of story. We sing, dance, do finger plays, talk in funny voices, and use books, puppet shows, and yes, technology, to infect children with the sheer fun of reading.

The technology isn't the thing that matters. The engagement and language, the playfulness, is.

LaRue's Views are his own.

No comments:

Post a Comment