The choice to have the TV on or off, and for how long, is yours to make as a parent. It’s important to have good sources of information to help you know whether turning on a favorite animated movie one more time is a good idea or not. TV is a part of our world, and it’s definitely hard to escape, just like computers, cell phones and processed foods. But taking thoughtful consideration time is a worthy enterprise.
For Parents: Facts and Tips about TV for Kids
1. Kids view the world literally, and if they are too young and without the ability to process right and wrong developmentally, TV can be a confusing source of information, especially if not given guidance on how to process it.
2. Scientific studies in the journal of Pediatrics show that 9 minutes of fast-paces cartoons or TV shows for kids under the age of 4 can negatively affect short-term attention spans.
3. Slower paces education-geared shows like Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street can have a positive effect on young children’s understanding of numbers, letters, words (in more than one language) and relationship interactions.
4. An excess of television watching in children has been shown to put them at risk for childhood obesity and poor social development.
5. TV watching for kids under 2 years has been shown to slow language use and development. (TV can be helpful for kids to see and hear examples of language interactions to help foster understanding, but their development is quickened and strengthened by face-to-face interaction.
6. TV has been shown to be addictive. Addictions begin when encouragement, relaxation satisfaction and rewards stem from watching TV rather than other activities that have been proven to strengthen positive developmnt, like reading books, dealing with people, playing and spending time outdoors.
7. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under two wach NO television, and that kids over two have a limit of two hours per day of programs that are age and development-appropriate. Here’s one of their reasons: “Any positive effect of television on infants and toddlers is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven.”
8. Many studies have shown that children exposed to violence on TV or other media are more likely to show aggression and/or violence themselves, and the results can be almost immediate in kids’ behavior. They can also develop an understanding that the world is a scary place and be mistrustful of others’ behaviors.
1. Be old-fashioned and do what some parents did years ago: Exercise your right as the authority figure, turn off the TV and send your kid outside to play.
2. Be aware of your kid’s behavior right after watching a movie or TV show. You never know what behaviors your kid will choose to mimic or experiment with, using the characters’ behaviors as a model. One mom described how her daughter started coloring on the walls because that was acceptable behavior in the princess from “Tangled”.
3. Make a point of asking your kid questions about how they understand the characters, their behavior, and the consequences of their behavior. Helping them make distinctions between actions that have unsavory consequences and ones that result in better relationships, happier people and healthy rewards is an important part of our job as parents.
4. Model good behavior: kids learn from you. Let them know that adults can make mistakes, and when you make a mistake, sincerely apologize, letting them know that you intend to make up for it and not repeat the behavior. Teach your child to solve problems calmly, and that they always have choices about the way she behaves and expresses herself.
5. Make a meal WITH your kids instead of removing them from the kitchen to give you time to make dinner. Kids can take out vegetables from the fridge and make salads, for instance. They can help make the layers in a lasagna (floppy noodles!), or help mix up meatloaf in a big bowl (with their hands! How fun!!). They can also set tables with self-made picture-placemats, and make namecards for this “very special Tuesday”. If your little one is too little, think of the long term instead of the short term: cleaning up a pile of tupperware that your little one loves to stack or bang around will have less of an impact on you in the long run than the effect of an hour more of TV for your kid’s development.
6. Choose shows that you like and that might want to watch with older kids. As one mom describes it, check in your feelings as you watch TV. If something makes you feel “gross, sad, or uncomfortable, or leaves you feeling less than desirable – or like you just murdered 85,000 brain cells by watching it – just stop watching.”* The same goes for something your kids are watching. Push the off button and then identify your feelings. They might balk, but you can explain there are other things to do than watching things that you find inappropriate for them. Give them choices, and if they choose to sulk or be miffed, that’s their choice too.
For further reading, I found these blogs and articles helpful: