Most parents know that it’s not a good idea to leave your child staring at the TV all day, but it could be the content rather than the quantity that has the biggest effect on development.
Studies show that particular types of programmes can benefit a toddler’s language skills more than others. Used correctly, television and other media can be used to teach as well as entertain.
Deborah Lenebarger of the Children’s Media Lab in Iowa recently released a paper on the subject examining different children’s shows and their effects.
"There's a lot of research now that shows when you design infant and toddler-directed media in ways infants and toddlers can learn, they can learn from it," Deborah says. "If you use screen media and pick the right stuff, it can be another tool."
Deborah found that the best kind of program for toddlers is one that tells a very simple story, and whose characters talk directly to the audience.
The best thing for language development is real life interaction, but when a character in a show talks directly to the audience, it mimics real life conversations.
"When you have a show like Blue's Clues specifically where a character talks directly to the child through the screen, that is exactly how you do language intervention. That models how to have a conversation," Deborah explains.
What may surprise you is what isn’t appropriate for toddlers with regards language development. Many ‘educational’ shows which are great for older children are bad for toddlers, because they can’t make sense of them.
Sesame Street in particular is cited as bad for toddlers. Because it gives out so much information, many characters and short sketches rather than one basic storyline, very young children cannot understand it properly. They might be entertained, but they are not learning.
Baby videos are just as unhelpful to toddlers, as again they tend not to have understandable storylines and characters. Presenting the context for words in key in language development.
When deciding what television to show your toddler, look for simple stories told by a few characters directly to the audience. It is the most like real life, and your child will understand and learn at a faster pace.