Is TV OK for young children?

Every parent has been in this position: you’re tired, hungry, just came home from work and need to shower, make dinner or just take a break!

Problem: your child is asking for entertainment. Solution: the TV!

A small amount of TV never hurt anyone. However, television has become the "virtual nanny" for many parents. Children eat, play or read while the TV is on, often resulting in hours of television viewing.

What's the problem with TV?

The problem is that television viewing takes away from human interaction, which is how your child is designed to learn and develop. Actually, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no television exposure for children under two!

A study showed that every hour of TV that a child under three watches per day increases the chance of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis by 10 per cent. This is most likely because of the fact that in those early years your child’s brain is still developing.

The frontal lobes which are important for working memory are not yet fully developed, so TV programs with changing scenes or those interrupted by commercials may seem like separate scenes with no coherent link to your child.

Remember the huge Baby Einstein and the "educational videos" craze? Well, in reality there is no scientific research to back up that these videos benefited children at all. No proof for this claim offered

On the contrary, research has shown that exposure to such "baby videos" among infants of 8-16 months was strongly associated with lower scores on standard language development tests. On toddlers aged 17-24 months, however, no significant effects, either positive or negative, were noticeable.

It’s worth mentioning that in 2009, the Walt Disney Company offered refunds to parents for all those "Baby Einstein" videos that didn’t make their children smarter!

However, reading to your child daily and storytelling were found to be associated with somewhat higher language scores for toddlers. Young children need human interaction for learning.

This coincides with Dr. Kuhl’s findings on language development in a very interesting experiment, showing that babies lean language sounds from a person not a video recording of a person.

In the experiment, she exposed babies to a person reading a story in Mandarin or to a tape recording of a person reading the books or a video of a person reading a story in Mandarin.

The results? The babies only learned the Mandarin sounds from the live person!

So, what can you do?

Read stories and sing songs with your baby. This well help develop your child’s language and attention span, as well as being a first step to literacy.

Use an activity centre with your infant. Exploring, pushing buttons, grasping and pulling objects will help develop your baby’s cognitive skills, fine and gross motor skills, understand cause and effect and just have fun.

If your child is a fussy eater, try feeding him/her during your meal time. Seeing his/her parents sitting and eating at the table may influence his/her eating habits.

Have your toddler play with some plastic storage containers while you are in the kitchen. This activity helps foster spatial visualisation ability by placing objects inside each other and fine and gross motor skills when grasping objects and putting the lid on and off.

Involve your toddler or pre-schooler in everyday household activities. While you cook your child could peel an onion for you or help you pour. If you are going shopping, he can help point out where items on the list are on the shelves. There are so many options!

Remember that what takes you a few minutes can be endlessly entertaining and a fun learning experience for your child.

I have to say that not all TV watching is bad. There are wonderful shows that do have an educational aspect to them.

How to choose an appropriate TV show

First, monitor what your child is exposed to. Avoid shows with violence or upsetting scenes. Research has shown that children who are exposed to television violence may become numb to it and gradually accept it as a way to solve problems.

For very young children below three, choose shows that don’t have too many changing scenes or a cluttered background. A show where there is a static background and a main character talking directly to your child about objects that pop out onto the screen clearly is a good option.

This format helps your child stay focused on the character and she will be able to understand clearly that when she hears the word "banana" and sees a picture of a banana on the screen that these two things are related.

How to watch TV with your child

Television watching can be an active experience, not just a passive one. Watch programmes together and encourage your child to sing and dance along with the characters on the show.

Ask your child about what’s going on. What does he thinks will happen next? Point out new objects. This well help turn television watching into a shared activity and an opportunity for your child to learn new words.

Use new and funny words that you learnt while watching television. After television, come up with activities like drawing or outings around things seen in the show.

I hope this gives a new perspective on the use of television with your children.

Jailan Heidar


Jailan Heidar

Jailan Heidar provides support for English speaking parents of young children in the Netherlands. She is a Parent and Teacher Educator with a specialized interest in child behavior and positive...

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