This month I decided to do some investigation into the effects of TV and other electronic media on children and their development. How much TV is too much TV? and What kinds of TV are detrimental and if any of it is helpful to children’s growth?
It seems there is general agreement that a child’s exposure to TV of any type should be limited. The American Academy of Pediatrics even said children two years and younger should not watch any TV whatsoever. Yet, there is also general agreement that we are completely ignoring this advice. Most parents lobby for and seek TV programs with appropriate content as a matter of convenience, since TV clearly serves as a babysitter of sorts for parents feeling time-constraints.
In many homes the TV is turned on early and stays on late. The programs viewed shows less actual choice and more habit. There are TVs in several rooms of most homes. Many children not only have their own TV, but electronic games, a computer, a DVD player for the car, and the list goes on.
So why is this so bad? Why should we not allow children under two to even see the TV?
Young children’s brains are genetically programmed to develop most effectively when exposed to a rich environment. They must have lots of social interaction and language exposure. This leads to self awareness and understanding one’s role in society. They should have virtually limitless opportunities for physical play, imaginative play, and creativity.
Today’s toddlers have more and more of these vital experiences usurped by TV and other electronic media. Watching TV is a passive act that takes the place of play, socializing with other people, and receiving feedback on their actions and consequences of behaviour. It is a one-way street.
The toddler and preschooler period is desperately important for children to achieve significant mental, physical and social development. They learn to define and refine what is socially appropriate behaviour when they interact with others including parents, caregivers, and other children during play.
The most powerful influence for effective language development is verbal interactions with caregivers. TV means children miss speaking thousands of words and having another human being respond to them. Their questions are not asked or answered. They have missed human conversation.
Children need to explore their physical world and learn the fundamental laws of physics by manipulating objects. Fantasy play paves the way for understanding symbolism, which is the cornerstone of reading and mathematical skills. To learn the appropriate use of language, children need to speak and have others respond. TV does not allow this very important feedback. Social skills must be learned by practice with other humans. Without this children do not know how to emotionally respond to others. Fantasy and creativity are necessary for problem solving and academic challenges later in life.
TV is bad because it replaces more creative and imaginative activities. It discourages reading and exercise. It exposes children to advertising and the increasing demand for material possessions. And finally it exposes children to violence and can increase aggressive behaviour in some children.
What kinds of TV are bad and what kinds are OK?
A study was done with 60 four-year-olds to see the effects of fast-paced cartoons. The children were divided into 3 groups. Each group were given something to do for nine minutes and then tested for the ability to focus, concentrate, wait patiently, memory, and manipulation. One group drew with crayons for the nine minutes. The second group watched an educational show called Cailou. The third group watched nine minutes of Sponge Bob. As you might suspect the children who watched Sponge Bob and its fast-paced sequences tested significantly worse on the attention and memory testing than children in the other two groups. There was no difference between the educational show and coloring groups. The human-Muppet interactions of Sesame Street are naturally paced, whereas the Sponge Bob sequences are unnaturally rapid. What the researchers concluded was that the unnatural pace of the cartoon sequences was over-stimulating and stressful to the child’s brain.
It stands to reason we should not expose our children to material that is not age-appropriate. While the program may not be damaging to your child, the commercials often are not age-appropriate. So be careful about the whole TV experience. Common TV themes are violence, sex, rebellion, crime, and horror. Please be very careful about what your children see as adults in the house are watching TV.
1. Keep the TV off before the child turns two. I know that sounds extreme, but these little ones do not benefit from TV and may actually be harmed in the long-run by it.
2. After age two, choose children’s shows and other media carefully. Aim for media that allows intelligent interaction between the show and the child. Dora, the Explorer is an good example.
3. Watch the chosen TV shows with your kids. As your children interact with the media, help them analyze and think critically about what they have just experienced.
4. Keep the TV out of kids’ rooms. Kids with their own TVs score an average of eight points lower on math and language tests than those in households with TVs in the family room.