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July 1998

Jeanne D. Beckman, Ph.D.

1998 Jeanne D. Beckman  This article may not be reprinted without permission from the author.  Please see information at end of article for information about obtaining permission.

The latest fad for children's television watching is Teletubbies.  This program specifically targets infants and toddlers from one year of age.  Yes, you read correctly--Teletubbies is a TV program designed for babies. Teletubbies "dolls", Halloween costumes, and other toys are heavily marketed for this very young age.  What is different about this particular program is that Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) is the broadcaster, proudly proclaiming research was done to "…ensure the effectiveness of 'Teletubbies' in teaching preschoolers skills that can contribute to school readiness and success," according to PBS's Internet site.
The first question to ask is what young children should be learning?  Should infants and toddlers be learning skills for school readiness and success?  Child development experts believe that a young child's best preparation for school is to play, because by playing children are actively learning how their world works.  Psychologist Leon Yarrow stated that the growth of significant interpersonal relationships is one of the most important changes during the first year.  Stanley Greenspan indicated that babies need to be protected, loved, and to share in interaction with others in order to meet his/her "emotional milestones".  For young children, then, future school readiness is best obtained through active communication with others as well as physically playing in their world.  Passively viewing others talk on TV is not believed to prepare children for later school success.
What, if any, harm can there be in allowing very young children to watch programs that are specifically geared for them?  Speech and language expert Dr. Sally Ward found over the past 20 years, increasing numbers of nine-month-old children are having trouble paying attention to voices when there is also background noise.  Increased amounts of TVs playing in homes creates this background noise and parents talk to their children less when the TV is playing.  How will these babies be able to pay attention in class when they go off to school?                   


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Not only does television not prepare toddlers for school or help them learn language; it may actually get in the way of learning.  TV replaces active learning opportunities (interacting with others and playing) with passive viewing of non-interactive TV.




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