You may have heard the common plug from your pediatrician or other sources – doctors recommend no tv for children under the age of two. Why is this? Is television actually bad for your child? What about educational shows like Baby Einstein or Sesame Street?
I’m going to address these two main questions.
Is television actually bad for your child?
Children are naturally active. They have to be taught to sit still and watch television.
When I worked at a daycare and we put on a show for the kids on rainy days, I could always tell which children watched television at home because they would sit still, whereas children who had less exposure to media would get up and run around, ignoring the program completely.
Obesity is just one of the many harmful side effects of training children to sit in front of a screen rather than allowing them to be naturally active.
But there are other, more subtle, problems that occur within a child’s body when they are exposed to media regularly.
Studies have linked screen time to alterations in the brain.
- Grey matter shrinkage – reducing ability to plan, organize, and control impulses.
- Interruptions between brain signals involving cognitive function and emotions
- Negative behavior and violence
- Trouble sleeping
Most of these effects won’t be seen in very young children. They will present later on, if the child is allowed to continue watching lots of screen media.
So is television harmful to young children? Not directly, no. What is harmful is the path they are being set on.
An early start on screen time means that children are trained to consider screen time a regular part of their schedule. Limiting media usage sets your children up for a more successful life in every aspect – physically, mentally, and emotionally. What parent wouldn’t want that for their child?
What about educational shows?
Here is the main problem: Children learn through interaction from adults.
Some parents openly admit that they just need some time to themselves, so they put a show on for the kids to watch. Other parents genuinely believe that their young children are learning from watching “educational” programs.
The problem is that there is no scientific research backing up the claim that sitting infants in front of these shows packed with bright colours and classical music is creating little prodigies.
Studies actually show that children learn six times faster from interaction with a live human being than from educational media.
You’ve probably been told how crucial the early years are to child development. Their brains are forming certain neurological pathways (which we do throughout our entire lives, but especially when we’re young), and parents have the power to affect the way those pathways are formed. If children are taught to sit still in front of a television, they are being conditioned for a sedentary lifestyle.
There is scientific research supporting the fact that too much time spent indoors – even if it is supposed to be educational time – has negative effects on children, both physically and mentally.
So what else can we do?
Of course, it’s understandable that parents need a break from time to time. It’s important for you to stay healthy and recharged in order to give your children the love and attention they need. And it’s also important to maintain your own relationship as husband and wife.
There are healthy alternatives to TV time that can nurture both you and your child.
Ask a close friend or relative to babysit so you can go out for dinner. Institute a quiet time (if your child doesn’t nap well) and set aside some toys or activities to be used specifically during that time (here are 10 Most Stimulating Toys for Young Children).
If you are absolutely convinced that you child should learn from some form of screen media, sit with them and interact during that time, asking and answering questions about the content.
What has been your experience with children and media? Do you support pediatric recommendations? Why, or why not? Let me know in the comments!
Napier, C. (2014). How use of screen media affects the emotional development of infants. Primary Health Care, 24(2), 18