Limiting Kids' TV-Watching Time
Because it uses both visual and audio stimulation, television is a particularly powerful draw for young audiences. Though TV does have some educational value, there is strong evidence of its drawbacks.
Children’s Early Learning and Development
The AAP advises against allowing children under age two to watch any television, stating: “Research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills.”
For children older than two, the recommended criterion is not to exceed an hour a day in front of the television, and to try to use that time constructively.
The veterans of children’s programming continue their mission to educate, accompanied by Disney, Fox Family, and Nickelodeon network broadcasts. I’m sure that what my kids learned watching Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and Thomas the Tank Engine (we still have all the trains!), helped with their early number and letter recognition skills, not to mention life-shaping concepts such as sharing, friendship, and even introductions to other cultures and languages.
Yet it is important to remember that most of children’s learning takes place through interactive play and experimentation with their senses, their environment, and their interaction with the people around them. Time spent in front of the television interferes with this vital learning process. Preschoolers need time to develop fine motor skills, which are crucial building steps to reading and writing. Crafts, painting, reading stories, building blocks, and playing with clay to build finger strength are far more constructive in the sense that they simultaneously contribute to developing a child’s imagination and creativity. Conversely, time spent in passive viewing of programs where all the creative work has been done for them does not.
Children’s Overall Health
The amount of time children spend watching television programs has been linked to negative effects on their health.
- Obesity and Diabetes: Researchers have shown that watching TV, and the low level of energy expended while so engaged (which might otherwise have been replaced by physical activities), has been linked to America’s growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
- In their groundbreaking 1985 study, “Do We Fatten Our Children at the Television Set? Obesity and Television Viewing in Children and Adolescents,” W.H. Dietz and S.L. Gortmaker state that, “Obesity is greater among children and adolescents who frequently watch television.” Studies further link the amount of television that a child views with his likelihood to consume the high calorie foods advertised, thus aggravating the situation.
- Noise: The National Institute of Public Health states that noise affects children’s health adversely, with hearing damage and ear ringing being the most serious consequences. Noise exposure has also been linked to physiological changes in blood pressure, digestion, sleep, and other stress-related disorders.
- Sleep: Scary television shows or movies at bedtime have been linked to nightmares during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, or the “dreaming stage” of sleep. Having a television in the child’s bedroom aggravates a child’s propensity for having TV-related sleep problems, ranging from the child’s temptation to turn on the set instead of sleeping, to watching inappropriate shows without parental supervision, to developing a dependence on viewing and using the set as a sleep aid.
10 TV-Free Activities for Families
Yes, the temptation is there for me to use this seat magnet as an all-time babysitter while running around doing my household chores, knowing that my kids will continue to sit right where I’ve plunked them.
Safely out of trouble?
No. So I’ve chucked the monster out of my kids’ bedroom and mine. It’s still lurking in my living room though. Now where were those kitchen scissors again?
- Play a board game.
- Act out a family play, complete with costumes.
- Sing during family karaoke, using real or makeshift instruments.
- Develop a shared hobby.
- Have a backyard camping expedition, complete with sleeping bags, barbecue, and friends. Or if it’s pouring rain, try setting up a tent in the living room!
- Read a book, or start a family book club with everyone in the family taking turns reading the same book and meeting once a month for sharing.
- Have a family cookout.
- Take a hike!
- Start a large family puzzle on a card table in the living room.
- Have an arts and crafts evening. You’ll find lots of great ideas in our crafts area—including lots of simple, fun projects for even non-crafty people.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN