Science informs parenting: sleep, TV, and fatherhood

Reading today, I came across several articles at the intersection of parenting and science that piqued my interest.

Friday Mabel skipped her nap entirely.  She’s been down to a single nap a day for months now, but the prospect of ZERO naps a day is terrifying, especially to Mac who is home with her all day.  Skipping that nap also meant Mabel was a miserable child when I got home from work.  Whiny, exhausted, frustrated/frustrating.  The bedtime routine that night consisted of me wrestling her through face washing, tooth brushing, hair combing, and diaper changing while she wailed.  So, when I saw this article in The Times, I was curious- “A child’s nap is more complicated than it looks.”

Mabel making her sleep a priority, napping in a booth at Panera.

I wonder if parents were to make their child’s sleep a priority, if instances of ADHD and other behavior problems wouldn’t decrease, as studies suggest.  My mother is a school nurse for 4th and 5th graders.  I remember a few years ago, being at a pizza place grabbing a late dinner (9pm) after an evening of Christmas shopping.  We ran into a student of hers, a 4th grader, in his karate uniform, with his mom, picking up a slice of pizza to go.  My mom made a benign comment to the boy and his mom about the late hour, but it was lost on the mother (who dropped the boy off early every morning to make it to work on time).  What 4th grader, who is dropped at school early every morning and has to be ready to learn at 8am, can function when he was eating dinner at 9pm the night before?!  I certainly hope that doctors and educators are making parents aware that for some children, sufficient sleep is able to diminish their ADHD symptoms to subclinical levels (source).

Another article that caught my eye was about the negative impact certain children’s programming had on their behavior:  “The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function” in the journal Pediatrics.  Mabel doesn’t watch much TV (or at least that’s what Mac assures me).  I know that the only time I turn the TV on for her is when I need to trim her fingernails, because it lulls her into a stupor, dramatically decreasing the chances that I’ll snip her actual finger, instead of just her fingernail.  I also try to listen to the radio instead of putting on the TV when I need some background noise/distraction.  I do think that Mac lets her watch more TV/videos that I would like/has the TV on too much, but I am not my daughter’s primary caregiver, I am not her only parent, and I can only dictate so much.  However, I do routinely send Mac articles about the effects of TV on little kids!

Mac put this on FB with the capiton, "Indoctrination." I don't think the authors included Star Trek: The Next Generation in their study.

So, here is a snippet from the press release about the article that I will pass along to Mac, if he doesn’t read it in his RSS feed first:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limited television for children – and discourages it altogether for children under age 2. A new study in the October, 2011, issue of the journal, Pediatrics, finds that some TV shows may be worse than others. The study, “The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function,” published online Sept. 12, tested 4-year-old children’s attention, problem solving, self regulation and other executive function abilities after they watched one of two cartoons for nine minutes. A control group of children received crayons and markers for free drawing for the same time period. The children who watched a fast-paced cartoon featuring an animated kitchen sponge did significantly worse on tests than the drawing group. There was no difference between the drawing group and children who watched a slower-paced, realistic Public Broadcasting Service cartoon about a typical preschool boy. Study authors stated they cannot tell which features of the TV show created the effects, though they speculate the combination of fantastical events and the fast pacing are responsible. They conclude that parents should be aware that watching similar television shows may immediately impair young children’s executive function. In a commentary, “The Effects of Fast-Paced Cartoons,” pediatrician and researcher Dimitri Christakis, MD, FAAP, discusses the study and the implications that media exposure has for children’s health.

Note the bolded portion (my emphasis):  no TV for children under 2!  I try not to be the TV Nazi in my house- and I won’t go to the extremes I’ve seen other parents (hiding TVs or not letting a child be in the same room as a TV that’s on), but I definitely don’t think Mabel should be watching TV as part of her daily routine.  It wasn’t ever a conscious decision on my part, it just doesn’t occur to me to turn on the TV for her, except in the nail trimming situation.  I know parents who do let their under 2 kidlets watch a lot of TV- the kids recognize the characters, ask for it to be turned on, etc.  I really can’t fathom that.

The last article I’ll mention today was about the biological drive to father (and I don’t just mean fertilize an egg, I mean actively parent):  “Why Father’s Have Lower Levels of Testosterone” in Time.  We hear all the time about oxytocin and bonding between mother and child, but dads are usually relegated to a peripheral parenting role, that they lack a biological/physiological bond to their children.  The article I mention would indicate that is not the case- dad’s do undergo physiological changes that promote their parenting instincts!

Do you let your littles watch TV?  Does the science on kids and TV sway you?


Filed under #scimom, Mother, Scientist

10 responses to “Science informs parenting: sleep, TV, and fatherhood

  1. Next Gen Trek shouldn’t count as TV… file it under future career training. Mabel will need to know these things later on.

    • Haha! My husband would definitely agree with that! I have to admit, when I saw the photo on FB, I laughed out loud. If she grows up watching TNG, I will be a happy woman! What’s not to love? Women in leadership positions, emphasis on science, characters confronting tough moral dilemmas, accepting/embracing other cultures… I could go on.

  2. Running low on time so I didn’t read the article (I know, shame), but I heard about it on NPR this morning – they mentioned that the sample size was fairly small for such sweeping recommendations (only 60 kids). It makes me nervous when people generalize from smaller samples, but I’m only halfway through the biostats class that should teach me more about proper power calculations…

    • I hear you. This study is just the one that’s all over the news and parenting websites right now. However, there have been many studies on kids and TV, and not all of the results are as clear cut.

      However, I do think there is a consensus in the field that TV isn’t great for little kids.

      Here’s another article from last year that found similar results:

      Good luck with Biostats. I definitely feel like stats is an area of weakness for me. Why must biology departments fear math?!

  3. Stefanie S

    Based on the recommendations at the time, we didn’t let the older kid watch TV until he was 2. Then we allowed Sesame Street and have since added Super Why and Blues Clues to the regular rotation (PBS and NickJr respectively). Eric also let’s him watch Pixar movies although I nixed the Incredibles for violence (plus it isn’t rated G). At this point, he watches 0-1 hour of TV per day unless he watches a movie and then it’s up to 90 minutes. I think it’s going to be harder to enforce no TV under 2 with the second kid though. He already is trying to look at the TV when the older kid is watching. I find it somewhat reassuring though that this article found the PBS style shows to be less harmful than Sponge Bob.

    • I hear you on the second go around. That will be hard.

      When Mabel was tiny, I’d watch TV while I nursed. The 2010 Winter Olympics were happening when she was a newborn, and I’d watch ski jumping at 3am because it was all that was on and helped me stay awake.

      However, once she got a little older, the TV would distract her, so I had to give it up.

      • Stefanie S

        I watched TV a lot while I nursed the older kid too. I stopped when he started trying to watch as well. This go around, there has definitely been less TV watching by me because the bigger kid has been hanging around.

  4. Nice post! Great summary of the same science parenting news I was seeing this week, too. Thanks!

  5. DS stayed with two naps a day to pretty close to age 2. At age 4, he’s just starting to drop his afternoon nap. I started trying to skip the afternoon nap after reading the research on sleep and obesity, and how for toddlers naps didn’t matter as much as overnight sleep.

    Before we started dropping the nap, he usually didn’t sleep very long at night, and often woke up. Now, at age 4, he’ll sleep about 10 hours, often straight through. It’s easier to get him to sleep at night (usually 10-20 minutes, vs. the 2-hour battles before).

    I got out of the TV habit in college. Like you, I’ve forwarded the research on limiting TV to my at-home husband. There were phases where DS watched a lot more than I like. I think some of the Enterprise episodes (screaming crewmembers) may have given DS nightmares as a newborn. And then there was the phase where the whole family was going through a rough time, and I fear DH used the electronic babysitter.

    Under age 1, I tried to limit his screentime to ~15-30 minutes per day, usually either a Sesame Street playlist online, or a Signing Time DVD.

    Between 1 and 2, we tried to keep it to less than 60 minutes, usually 30 or less.

    After 2, we’ve tried to keep it to about 1 hour a day, but that’s also about the time we started doing a Friday night movie. Even at 4, we try to limit to less than 2 hours screentime per day unless he’s sick.

  6. Pingback: Science informs parenting: sleep, TV, and fatherhood | Kids say :

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