Healthy Kids    

What TV and Computers are Doing to Our Kids

According to many professionals, the corruption of children's play starts early by the merchandisers who view children as a market to be exploited. A recent article states that about $50 million a year is spent on software programs for children. A large percentage of this money is spent on 'lapware' computer programs geared toward children 6 months to 2 years of age. It is called 'lapware' because the child sits on the parent's lap, and the parent is provided a large cushioned mouse for the child to push.

According to the professionals, those who write and market software programs are deficient in their understanding of what children learn and when they learn it. Many professionals believe that much of the software made for young children either instructs the child in something she already knows or attempts to teach the child a skill that is beyond her ability to learn.

Many professionals concur that most of these programs are a waste of time and money. Others believe that in addition to wasting time and money, these systems are potentially harmful. Because of infants' underdeveloped visual system and the unknown effects of watching the over-stimulated images on a computer or T.V. screen, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children not watch TV or be exposed to computer screens.

Other professionals echo these concerns, adding that the use of computers don't match the learning style of young children and are not a good match for the skills they are learning to master. Educational psychologist Jane Healey, a harsh critic of computers for young children, goes a step further stating that children shouldn't be exposed to computers until the age of seven. She writes, "The minute we introduce an artificially engaging stimulus with fast paced visuals, startling noises, silly scenarios and easy excitement the brain is directed away from its natural developmental tasks."

There is no evidence that computers give infants and young children any academic head start. Proponents of early introduction to academics say that these programs introduce children to the ABCs, to numbers, to color recognition and other basic skills that will help them when they enter school.

Sesame Street has been on the air for 30 years and children today learn their numbers and letters earlier than ever before, but this early learning has not translated into better reading and math skills. Reading and math scores have stagnated or declined since 1970, with the largest decline being in basic literacy. If TV has not been successful in improving children's reading and math skills, why should computers?

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. His child behavior column appears each month in Hudson Valley Parent magazine. He can be reached at