It’s known as the Electronic Babysitter and the Idiot Box. It’s something that takes pride of place in most peoples’ living rooms. Some people even have more than one in the home. Nowadays, it’s unusual not to have at least one television. But what implications does our western screen-addicted lifestyle have for our children and our families?
The Bad Side
There have been thousands of exhaustive studies carried out on the effect of television on young children’s development. Some experts have gone as far as to suggest that just half an hour of screen time each day is enough to cause hyperactivity disorders in children. However, all of the studies agree that too much TV can have a very detrimental effect on our health.
Too much TV has been blamed for:
- Problems with eyesight
- Childhood obesity
- Hyperactivity disorders such as ADD and ADHD
- The breakdown of the modern family unit
- Delays in learning
- Problems with social skills
The American Academy of Pediatrics made this statement about their stance on TV for small children:
“It may be tempting to put your infant or toddler in front of the television, especially to watch shows created just for children under age two.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics says: Don’t do it!
These early years are crucial in a child’s development. The Academy is concerned about the impact of television programming intended for children younger than age two and how it could affect your child’s development. Pediatricians strongly oppose targeted programming, especially when it’s used to market toys, games, dolls, unhealthy food and other products to toddlers.
Any positive effect of television on infants and toddlers is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven. Under age two, talking, singing, reading, listening to music or playing are far more important to a child’s development than any TV show.”
So, it’s fairly obvious that we don’t want our kids to be watching too much TV, if any at all. Some families have gone as far as removing all television sets from the house. And who could blame them, with the effect it can have on our families. Beyond the obvious health aspects and the advertising, the subliminal programming gets into our heads and warps our perceptions of the world, moulding them into what suits those who control the networks. They’re not good people.
The Good Side
I may come under fire for this, but I do believe that TV has a place, in moderation.
I am the mother of a telly-obsessed 3 year old who would watch it all day long if he could – however we limit it to no more than two hours in total each day, in short bursts. Some days he watches none, others a little more than I would like. One of my ongoing missions in life is to reduce his TV time.
But, I have to say; it’s a useful tool at times. When I want to take a shower, he will watch a programme for fifteen minutes. If he’s having what I like to call an ‘oppositional day’ and refuses to lie down for me to change a dirty nappy, popping the telly on for five minutes is a useful distraction and saves us from needless stress. And sometimes, if he is feeling tired and overwhelmed after a friend comes to visit, 15 minutes snuggled on the sofa with mama watching part of a nature documentary calms him down like nothing else.
Like anything, TV has its good and bad points – unfortunately, the bad points outweigh the good. However, there are ways of limiting the negative effects of TV on your children; this doesn’t mean we can plonk them in front of it all day with no worries about their development being affected, but we can help make any screen-time they have more productive and useful.
TV Damage Limitation: My Top Tips
1. Watch with them! If there’s a particular programme that your kiddo loves and you’ve decided to let them watch it, try to sit and watch with them. Talk about what’s going on and ask questions about the action to help keep them grounded in reality, rather than slipping off into telly-land.
2. Choose programmes wisely. Here in the UK, we have a channel called cBeebies. It’s the only kids TV channel I am happy with my son watching because all of the programmes are educational and non violent, and there are no advertisements. Once, Monkey got to see a little of Tom and Jerry when we went to visit a family member; I didn’t really think anything of it (after all, my brother and I grew up on Tom and Jerry) until they started maiming each other and I saw the confused look on Monkey’s face. I quickly changed the channel and that was the end of that.
3. Avoid ‘baby talk’ programmes. This is one of my major pet hates – people talking to children like they are frontal lobotomy patients. Children are not stupid; they are capable of understanding big words – and they certainly would understand more of them if people used them in conversation with them. These programmes in which the characters talk in their own insipid little language do nothing to help develop language skills. Indeed, TV is rubbish for language development anyway, but it still must be better to let our children watch programmes that talk in a proper language rather than “eh-oh” this, and “ooo-ooo” that. Unfortunately my son’s favourite programme, ‘In The Night Garden’, is one of the worst offenders…
4. Limit screen time. Decide how much television you are comfortable with your children watching (preferably less than 2 hours per day, the less the better), and then enforce the rule. It’s shocking how quickly those hours add up if you don’t keep a close eye. If you, like me, tend to use the TV when you need to do something (shower, write, clean etc), use the time efficiently so that they aren’t watching too much. You can plan your activities around the favourite programmes of your child – if you know that ‘I Can Cook’, for example, is on at 2pm, you can plan your shower for then and make sure you’re out in time for 2.20pm to switch off when the programme finishes.
5. Don’t fall into habits. It’s easy to get into a habit of watching TV at certain times of the day, regardless of what is actually on. Remember that time spent staring at a screen could be better spent doing something else. If the weather is good, get outside! Outside time is crucial for healthy eyesight – children need 2 hours per day at least. If playing outside isn’t an option, try an indoor activity like potato painting, play-doh (you can even make your own!) or baking. Making raisin buns is easy peasy and always goes down well with little ones.
6. No TV’s in bedrooms! If you have older children you probably will have been asked at some point for a TV in a bedroom. My advice is to say no. Children with TV’s in their bedrooms spend less time with their families and friends. In addition to this, you won’t be able to monitor what they are watching.
7. Consider DVD’s instead of TV. You can vet what they watch a lot more thoroughly, and ensure that they are educational. A DVD can be easily integrated into a routine because it has a definite end – and you’re less likely to get the inevitable “awwww, just 5 more minutes?”
8. Schedule outside time. Time spent in front of the TV is time spent being sedentary. Make sure that, when you can, you get your kids outside to play – keeping them active is the key to avoiding weight problems. As I previously mentioned, outside time is also very important to eyesight development – the constant adjustments the eyes have to make between near and far vision helps them to keep strong and could prevent problems with near or far sightedness later on. If you can’t get outside for whatever reason, set up some fun indoor games for the kiddo’s that will get their blood pumping – a rambunctious game of hide n’ seek, perhaps?
Whatever your rules regarding screen-time, don’t feel like you have to conform to anyone else’s standards. Do what feels right for you and your family.