"This is further evidence that certain children, particularly vulnerable children, have environments early on that are not conducive to optimizing their mental health," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children's Research Institute and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Christakis noted that 50 percent of kids from this type of background start kindergarten lacking basic skills.
That so many kids are watching TV early is "shocking and disconcerting," he said. He pointed out that children this age are awake for only 10 or 12 hours a day, but 40 percent of these kids are spending a third of their waking hours in front of a television.
"In many cases they're strapped in," Christakis said. "Early television viewing is associated with attention problems and with cognitive delays, and it's harmful to babies' brain development."
For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages TV viewing before the age of 2 years, Christakis noted.
"We know there is nothing better for young children's brains than real-world human interaction," he said, adding that the brain develops in direct response to external stimulation.
The extended TV watching among these children comes at a big cost, Christakis said. "Both in terms of displaced external activity, such as play or being read to, but also television is overly stimulating -- inappropriately stimulating to the developing brain," he said.
Melissa Salgueiro, a psychologist at Miami Children's Hospital, concurred that "children should not be exposed to TV before age 2." Even then, she said, TV should be limited to 30 minutes per day, with parents finding other activities -- such as play -- to calm their children.
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