Q: When our 14-month-old son was born, his pediatrician told us to avoid screen time, so we do not allow him to watch TV and we rarely have it on while he is awake. But, we subscribe to a music service that streams through the TV. When the songs play, the album covers are shown on the TV screen. A friend told me that seeing the album covers has the same neurological effects as if he were watching a TV show. Another friend says that because the album covers are static images, there are no detrimental affects. Can you please clear this confusion up for us?
–Music Mystified, in Los Angeles, CA
A: Dear Mystified,
Your second friend—the one who says that the effects are reduced because the album covers are static images—is closer to right. Our brains are wired to pay attention to things that change in our environments. That’s why we turn to look when someone walks into the room or when the image on a TV shifts.
It’s also why screens can draw the attention of even young children who can’t yet understand what they’re seeing. The static image of an album cover almost certainly won’t hold your child’s attention in that way. However, he may turn to look each time the image changes, which could interrupt his play.
I would recommend watching your son while the music service is on. Does he turn away from what he’s doing to look at the screen? Does he pause in his play?
If so, a simple fix would be to see if your TV has a brightness control and, if so, to turn it all the way down. If it doesn’t, hang a sheet over the screen when your son is in the room. That should help reduce any distraction and allow him to focus on free play, which is one of the things he most needs.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,