Abu Dhabi, UAE: While exposure to rapid image changes is harmful to young children, cognitive stimulation is helpful.
So read to children and sing with them to increase their abilities to think and process information.
This type of stimulation makes children less likely to develop inattention difficulties later in their school lives, a paediatrics expert advised last night.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, professor of paediatrics at the University of Washington told the majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the content of what children watch is key.
Dr Christakis, also the director of the Centre for Child Health, Behaviour and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and an attending paediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, advised parents to learn how to distinguish what is positive and what may cause inattention.
“For example, programmes that constantly change scenes cause over-stimulation. Those that are slow, real narratives like Mr. Rogers are more calming and cognitively stimulating,” he said.
Shaikh Mohammad and His Highness Shaikh Saud Bin Rashid Al Mualla, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, attended the lecture.
Professor Christakis dedicated the first part of the lecture to showcasing how the brain develops in the first three years of the child’s life, and how experiences undergone in the first few years of our lives shape the development of our brains for years to come.
He also discussed the ill-effects of overexposing children to different forms of media, including television, which he argued contribute greatly to shortening children’s attention span, eventually leading to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Dr Christakis said once the children develop the language function between 18 to 24 months, they start developing the part of the brain that controls executive functions, particularly self-control, working memory and cognitive flexibility.
“All three of these are important, but I believe that self-control is the most important,” he said.
He added overexposure to fast-paced media negatively affect children’s ability to self-control. “Children need real-time play and less fast-paced media,” he said. “If you change the beginning, you change the whole story.”
Dr Christakis said the more self-control children have in their childhood, the better they are likely to do as adults, recommending training children to be able to focus on a single task.
He said the argument for multitasking doesn’t make sense because the performance of children in fact goes down when they multitask, while performing a single task produces work of better quality.
He said overexposure to television, especially fast-paced media, increases the likelihood of children developing ADHD. “Children who watch two hours of TV before the age of three are 20 per cent more likely to develop ADHD when they grow up,” he said.
Professor Christakis said that even overexposure to good content has ill effects, suggesting that parents ensure their children use media in moderation.
Dr Christakis added there are alarming figures about the amount of time children spend in front of screens. “A typical child spends six to seven hours a day, so they’re spending 50 per cent of their time in front of a screen,” he said.
He said parents have to model their behaviour in front of their children when it comes to using media, arguing that traditionally used to get family members together, which isn’t the case anymore as everyone watch TV and other content on their tablets, mobiles and TVs.
He suggested that parents should make a diary of how much media and social media is being used in the family and based on this diary one can start moderating their and their family’s use of media.
Professor Christakis graduated from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and he’s the author of more than 200 original research papers and a book titled “The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for your Kids”.
© Gulf NewsJun 2016