Television is an extraordinary medium, and for the first few years of a child's life, it is difficult to understand what it really is and where the boundary lies between physical reality and on screen portrayal. Children start to understand what television represents at around the age of 3 years. Babies and young toddlers stand almost no chance of understanding TV - for them, the screen represents a mass of fast moving shapes, sounds and images; scenes move too quickly for them to make sense of what they see. As their brain begins to interpret more quickly, they start to digest images better and they can begin to understand the flow of a TV show more coherently.
Even at 3 years old, most children will think that if you knock over a glass of milk on the television, that milk will spill onto the floor of your living room. That will seem really weird to adults who understand television for what it is, and easily forget just what your babies and todders will make of TV!
Toddlers have a very literal view of the world, they take their experiences at face value and consider everything 'reality'. This is hardly suprising - they experience new things every day and there's no reason why they should be filtering fantasy from reality, they simply perceive everything as 'real'. Young children will be captivated more by cartoons than by live action. This is because cartoons present more straightforward pictures and there is generally a higher contrast in the colours on screen. For their first few years, toddlers can't even distinguish between a cartoon portrayal and live action, for them, everything is real. Now that we live in a world filled with mass media, we have made understanding our world just that bit more complicated for our little ones!
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