The days when children rushed home from school to put on their favorite show for half an hour and then spent the rest of the evening playing outside with their friends are all but over. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that by the time the average child graduates high school, they will have likely had more TV time than classroom time. With 100's of channels and instant TV at their fingertips, many parents wonder about both the negatives and positives of letting their children watch TV.
Interactive and engaging shows can be beneficial if a parent or caregiver interacts with the child while watching the show. Program's for younger children that teach the basics of reading and math in an engaging manner can give children the much needed repetition that aids in retention. Beyond that, any show that discuss relationships, making good choices, manners and other morals can be used by adults as the starting point for teaching important lessons.
Watching movies and TV shows together as a family can also have a lasting impact on the child and provide some bonding time. Choosing shows that the children and adults can both enjoy will help to create memories that will last.
Other potential benefits to TV viewing included the promotion of literacy. When children are introduced to characters on the screen, they might be more likely to head to the library and read more about that character from a book. When used occasionally, allowing children to watch TV can also give mom and dad some much needed quiet in the home.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two not have any time in front of a screen. The first two years of life are crucial to brain development, and when infants and toddlers watch TV, their brains are not making the connections needed for growth. A baby's time is better spent engaging in activities that would work to develop the brain. After the age of two, the AAP recommends continuing to limit the amount of screen time the child has to less than two high-quality hours of television a day, as even after the age of two, TV continues to distract from activities that would better serve the child.
The AAP notes that children who consistency watch too much TV are more likely to have issues with attention in school and in play time. This is likely because most of the TV available is not meant to keep a child's attention for more than a few minutes at a time. Children do not learn how to wait or be calm, but instead learn that if activities are not in constant flux, they are boring.
Another real concern with children watching TV is the amount of violence found in even children's TV shows. The American Psychological Association has concluded that when children watch violence on TV they are less aware of the suffering of others, more fearful of the word they live in and more likely to harm the people around them. Children tend to replicate what they see and if they are frequently watching a person hit others, they may act this out in real life.
Among the other drawbacks noted by the AAP is that children who watch lots of television are less active and have a higher risk for obesity. When the physical activity involved in going outside and playing is replaced by sitting in front of the TV, it's only natural that children will be less healthy. Children are also more likely to have a negative self image as they mature, due to the unrealistic expectations most TV shows portray.
Balancing It All
Child development experts are divided on how best to balance the positives and negatives of TV watching for children, but a few suggestions stand out. Parents and caregivers must supervise what children watch to ensure there is no violence or adult subject matter. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that parents discuss the programs that are watched and how the children can use the lessons learned within them. Additionally, removing all TV's from bedrooms and turning them off at meal times will be beneficial to the entire family. Creating a TV free day once a month can also teach children that their are many ways to be entertained.