“Television’s and Electronic Media Impact on Young Children and on Parent-Child Interactions”



Daniel Anderson, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, at UMass Amherst

Studies conducted by Professor Emeritus Daniel Anderson of the Psychology Department, at UMass Amherst suggest certain outcomesbased on a child’s age and television and electronic media exposure. Professor Anderson shared his findings at a recent event held by the Office of Family Resources entitled, Dinner On Us.

During the event, Professor Anderson presented a power point to a group of parents in a small, rectangular room, where all 30 parents sat in two concentric circles. An inner circle of parents surrounded the oblong conference table, and an outer circle of parents lined the room’s stark white walls. They all watched attentively as Anderson described select studies and explained the results.

Two and a half year olds are extremely variable in how much they pay attention to a screen, explained Anderson. At three years however, toddlers are significantly more engaged as they are able to understand more about the depicted situation. This conclusion is important because parents may then consider the fact that two and a half year old children may not receive any measurable benefit from watching educational programming, while, three year old children may.

In addition to describing patterns in television watching by children, Anderson also went on to discuss the habits of parents parenting, while engaged with the television. Anderson conducted studies, which he showed to the parents, exploring the way in which parents spend time with children, with the television both on and off. His findings suggested that parents participate in “scaffolding” when the television is off. He explained that this means parents are engaged with their child, gently helping them solve puzzles and being attentive, while the same parents fail to be as engaged when the television is on a program of his or her choice in the background.

Sharing results such as these throughout the program allowed Anderson to make a few final suggestions to conclude. He said, “there shouldn’t be any screen time for children under two years of age, and at most one hour of television on in the background.” These findings allowed parents who attended the event to compare their own behavior, with the prescribed behavior, thus hopefully making adjustments in the near future to improve the family time in their household.


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