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When TV Is Good for Kids

Looking for a no-guilt excuse to plop your preschooler in front of the TV while you make dinner or sneak in a phone call? According to a recent study of 3- to 5-year-olds (at whom educational shows like Blue's Clues and Sesame Street are targeted) those who watch TV do better on short-term memory and prereading tests than those who don't.

For kids under 3, though, each hour of daily television watched has a slightly negative impact on learning; at three hours a day, the effect is big. (The kids under 3 in the study averaged 2.2 hours a day.) Those who did best on the tests watched little or no TV before age 3 and no more than two hours a day between ages 3 and 5, say the study's researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle.

For most moms, TV is such a part of daily life that it's almost impossible to steer toddlers away from the screen all the time. But until kids can really benefit from what they're seeing, try to keep it to a minimum. And when they turn 3, switch on good shows and reinforce the messages. For instance, a program about letters can jump-start a game with alphabet blocks or a search for the same letters in a book. "TV can never take the place of quality interactions with your child, but it can be a tool," says Dimitri Christakis, M.D., the lead author of the study.