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Watching TV with young children helps their cognitive development, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth say that while too much TV exposure for young babies may be detrimental to play, language development and executive functioning, there are benefits to viewing age-appropriate content.

These benefits can include enhancing their learning and improving conversational skills by co-watching with adults.

Dr Eszter Somogyi, from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “We are used to hearing that screen exposure is harmful to children and, if not limited to less than an hour a day, can cause serious damage to their development. While it can be harmful, we Research shows that the focus should be on the quality or context of the content your child is watching, not the quantity.

“Weak narratives, fast-paced editing, and complex stimuli can make it difficult for children to extract or generalize information.

“But when screen content is age-appropriate, it can have a positive impact, especially when it’s designed to encourage interaction.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, looked at 478 studies published over the past 20 years and concluded that context is critical to the benefits of screen use.

Dr Somogyi explained: “Families vary widely in their attitudes towards and use of media.

“These differences in viewing environment play an important role in determining the strength and nature of television’s effects on children’s cognitive development.

“Watching TV with your child and elaborating and commenting on what they are watching can help improve their understanding of the content and enhance their learning in an educational program.

“Co-viewing also helps develop their conversation skills and provides children with role models for appropriate TV viewing behavior.”

The study authors noted that over the past 30 years, the number of TV shows aimed at infants increased as screen time for children aged 0 to 2 doubled between 1997 and 2014.

The authors recommend enhancing environments that promote learning, such as viewing select age-appropriate content, viewing under adult supervision, and not turning on a second device or TV screen in the background.

Dr Bahia Guellai, from the Department of Psychology at Universit√© Paris Nanterre, who also participated in the study, said: “The important ‘take-home message’ here is that caregivers should keep new technology in mind.

“The TV or smartphone should be used as a potential tool to complement some of the social interactions with young children, not replace (them).

“I think our society’s most important challenge for future generations is to make adults and young people aware of the risks of unconsidered or inappropriate screen use.

“This will help prevent situations where screens are used as a new type of childcare, as they have been during pandemic lockdowns in different countries.

“I am optimistic about the concept of finding a balance between the rapid spread of new technological tools and maintaining the beautiful nature of human relationships.”