Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 1 of 3

Break time for a 2-year-old (who's now 5).

Note:  The following is a column that I wrote for the Barrow Journal, and it appeared in that newspaper on September 29, 2010. Back then, my sons had just turned 4 and 1, so the one-year-old was not watching any T.V.  I’m revising this column just a little for my blog, and I’m going to follow up with a Part 2) about our T.V. viewing now – which has increased, and a Part 3) programming we watch.

I have heard a few mothers say that they do not permit their children to watch television at all, or they limit it to one 20-30 minute program or segment of a movie each day.  I usually remain quiet when I hear this because I can only imagine what they would think of me if they knew how much television I allow my son to watch.

I don’t blame them though.  There has been a lot of research done on T.V. and kids, and most of it favors limiting screen time.  (You can see a good summary of the findings on the University of Michigan Health System website.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 watch no television, and older children should be limited to only one or two hours of educational, age-appropriate programming.

Research also points out:

  • Watching too much T.V. can lead to weight gain, sleep problems, and can have a negative impact on school performance.
  • Children under the age of eight cannot differentiate between what is real and fantasy, and telling them that something isn’t real doesn’t work, so scary programs can traumatize them.
  • There has also been research done to show that children learn certain attitudes through stereotypes depicted on T.V., and there is much evidence showing that aggressive behavior can be linked to watching violence on T.V.

As for infants, researchers do not know enough about early brain development, but there’s enough evidence to suggest that all those DVDs marketed to babies does not help them.  Babies need to interact with adults, hear their parents talking to them and be free to explore their environments.  Some studies suggest a link between early exposure to television and the development of ADD.

On average, my 4-year-old son probably watches 2.5 hours of T.V. per day, though not all at once.  We allow him to watch two educational programs each in the morning and evening.  We only use Apple T.V. or DVDs, so the programs last about 25 minutes each and are commercial free.  Sometimes he’ll sit and watch part of a program my husband and I watch too, though we are careful not to watch anything violent.

There are days he watches more or less T.V.  When he’s sick or there’s a special occasion or if we just feel like it, we let him watch a movie in addition to a couple of shows, and he always gets to watch the whole movie.  This does not include the time he spends in front of a computer each day.

My husband loves T.V. and watches at least one show each day on his computer.  I’m thankful he’s not someone who needs to keep the T.V. on all day, but since he loves T.V. and technology, he has gotten my son used to a certain daily dose in front of the tube.  It used to worry me, but there comes a time when you have to pick your battles, and I knew that screen time in my house was not something I was going to change.

Furthermore, I now depend on my son’s T.V. time, and I’m not sure I could get anything done otherwise.  I use the time to take a shower, do chores and tend to my baby.  I honestly don’t know how those moms manage with just “30 minutes of T.V. a day.”

I think there are other benefits to children watching television, but they are not talked about as much.  By watching educational programming, my son has learned much more than I ever learned when I was his age.  I am also surprised that he loves to watch nature programs and documentaries.  (He watched Michael Wood’s documentary, The Story of India, with my husband and I when he was two.  I think the stunning cinema photography kept his attention.)  How else could I expose him to such interesting places and things?

There have been studies showing that programming with a prosocial message can have positive effects on children and adults I believe that by watching a cartoon such as PBS’s Caillou, my son has gained confidence.  The show reinforces many of the things I’m teaching him, and he identifies with the little boy named Caillou who is so much like him.

When I read articles about the negative affects of television on children, I take note of the suggested alternatives to watching television:

  • reading,
  • talking to your children,
  • not watching during dinner,
  • exploring nature,
  • encouraging imaginative play,
  • music,
  • stories on the iPod,
  • and letting them be bored sometimes so they have to figure out how to occupy themselves.

The thing is – I do all of those things!  He has a variety of activities to fill his day, and we go out and explore the world and meet people.  T.V. is just a part of his day.

Much of the commentary on the effects of T.V. on children had to do with children watching the commercials and too much adult programming, especially programs with violence. I believe that when parents balance age-appropriate, commercial-free T.V. viewing with other, healthy activities, television can’t hurt kids.  And it may be good for them if they watch educational, prosocial shows.  

More coming up in Parts 2 and 3.  I hope you’ll come back, and please tell me what you think!

13 Responses to “Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 1 of 3”

  1. Agree, agree, agree! (My 4 y/o daughter is watching a DVR’d Dora so I can read this…)

  2. Don’t tell, but on particularly rough days when all the girls do is bicker, I may let them watch 1.5 hours of PBS in the morning and a full movie while I’m fixing dinner. I don’t know how I would get by without it!

  3. I agree. My daughter watches TV via NetFlix and DVD/VHS. I often think the commercials are worse than the actual shows. We use TV for education and for recreation. She has learned a lot and seeing as how we do so much without TV, I am not too concerned.

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