Watching TV can be good for your child

Television has become so deep a part of the national culture that the capacity to recognise TV images can now be used as a tool for assessing children's development, doctors report today.

Researchers from the Royal Free Hospital in London believe television offers a simple and effective way of gauging children's progress. Dr Ben Lloyd and colleagues from the hospital's department of child health asked the parents of almost 800 children aged eight months to two years whether they could recognise pictures of a cat, dog or a baby on the television. Recognition was defined as naming, imitating or pointing at it.

The team found that one in four of the children recognised the pictures at one year, a figure that rose to 96 per cent by 18 months. Among a second group of 26 parents of children with Down's syndrome, only one in five children recognised the images at 18 months.

TV images are more abstract than pictures in books and provide a marker that needs no special equipment or training to record. The authors dismissed fears that they are encouraging parents to "train" their children by sitting them in front of the TV. "We do not fear that [we] could encourage excessive viewing. Indeed we usually couple [our inquiries]with suggestions about limiting television viewing."

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