Saturday, January 21, 2012

Television can help children with language, researchers find

The following article was published by by: Natasha Bita, Consumer Editor, in the The Australian on November 12, 201112:00AM. The heading implies that TV helps children, which is a simplistic view. The study actually reinforces what educators already know--parental involvement is the key to success. I have highlighted the key points of the research. So let the children watch TV, but watch with them, discuss what they see and read to them so they will have a better chance at school and life.

TOO much TV does not "dumb down" young children but can improve their language, researchers have concluded in a landmark study of the first generation of "digital natives".

The research, based on data from the federal government's longitudinal study of Australian children, questions the conventional wisdom that TV hinders children's learning.

While it links console games to "lower linguistic abilities,” the study concludes that computer usage improves children's literacy skills as they grow older.

The first generation of children immersed in new media -- known as "digital natives" -- benefit as much from using computers as they do from reading books.

"Computers seem to aid literacy, especially as children get older," lead author Michael Bittman, of the University of New England's school of behavioural, cognitive and social sciences, said yesterday.

Professor Bittman said the research conflicted with conventional advice to keep toddlers away from the TV. "All the literature indicated that, and the American Paediatrics Association advice is, don't use any television when the child is under two," he said.

"It was regarded a bit like sunlight and skin cancer -- they said that if you get a lot of TV it inhibits your print literacy.

"But what comes out of our study is that it's the parenting that makes the difference."

The researchers discovered that toddlers with a TV in their bedroom had a poorer vocabulary by the age of four. "Co-viewing, in contrast, is associated with better vocabulary," they conclude in their paper, prepared for the Journal of Education and due to be presented at the Growing Up in Australia conference in Melbourne next week. "Our findings indicate that among preschoolers, perhaps, any dose of media is safe provided the protective factors . . . are all in place."

Those "protective factors" included a stimulating home environment, sufficient family income and parental conversation and supervision.

"The children most at risk of delayed language acquisition are those from low socioeconomic backgrounds whose parents are not involved in their child's use of media," the paper says.

The researchers found that children with a computer in the home had a "better mastery of vocabulary" at the age of eight.

But the old-fashioned bedtime story still has the most influence over a child's success at school.

"Our results suggest that attention should be paid to encouraging the child's use of the oldest media of all -- print -- as this is closely associated with receptive vocabulary at age four years," the study says.

Professor Bittman said the research found that TV inhibited language and literacy development if children had a TV in their bedroom. "There is no support for the electronic babysitter," he said.

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