In today’s world it’s pretty hard to escape TV, especially if you’re a child. It’s often left on in the background, even if no one is watching, and many parents use it as a substitute babysitter. It’s even harder to avoid TV during holidays when parents are at work. With so much TV being watched, we look at the good and bad effects that it has on children, and possible solutions.

Firstly, how much TV do kids actually watch? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 66% of infants and toddlers spend about 2 hours a day watching a screen, while children under 6 spend about 2 hours a day watching TV and videos. When it comes to children and teenagers, they reportedly spend almost 4 hours watching TV every day and an extra 2 hours playing video games.

THE GOOD

TV – in moderation – can actually be good. It can be an educator by teaching pre-schoolers numbers, letters, colours and shapes, as well as teaching them about feelings, problem solving, being curious and the difference between right and wrong. Older children learn about wildlife through nature programmes, history channels teach them about the past, science programmes show them how things are made, and cooking channels teach kids about food and healthy eating.

THE BAD

The first 2 years of a child’s life are critical for brain development and the stimuli they get will influence this development. TV is an unnatural stimuli and the images behave in a different way to real life. The screen is flat (not 3D), images move too quickly and it is not interactive. Researchers suggests that TV will negatively impact a child’s language development, their hearing, vision, reading skills and attention. For these reasons the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 not watch any TV. The best way for babies to learn is by exploring, playing and interacting with people and their environment.

The situation is different for children who are older than 2, although too much TV can interfere with activities like reading, playing with friends, doing homework, being active and spending time with family. It’s recommended that children older than 2 watch less than 2 hours of quality TV a day.

THE EFFECTS

According to research, too much screen time (including TV, video games, cellphone, and tablets) has been linked to various problems in children, such as:

  • Obesity: Overeating in front of the TV and not doing enough running around outside.
  • Irregular sleep: Too much TV lead to sleeping problems, especially after violent programmes.
  • Violence: Can desensitise kids and they then accept aggressive behaviour as a way to solve problems.
  • Risky behaviour: Sex and consumption of drugs, alcohol and tobacco are seen as cool and acceptable.
  • Attention problems: Excessive TV is linked to a decrease in academic performance.
  • Materialistic attitude: Commercials encourage kids to want unnecessary material items.

Too much TV will affect all children in different ways, but those with emotional or learning difficulties may be even more susceptible to the negative impacts of TV, as they could find it more challenging to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

THE SOLUTION

We give you our top 10 tips on limiting exposure to TV:

  1. Restrict TV, computer and cellphone usage to 2 hours a day, and kids under 2 should avoid it altogether.
  2. Content matters, so choose educational and non-violent programmes for them.
  3. No TVs and computers in the bedrooms.
  4. Don’t have a TV on in the background.
  5. Kids should see watching TV as a privilege not a right.
  6. Stop eating in front of the TV.
  7. Rent DVDs or record programmes so you can fast forward and avoid commercials.
  8. Watch programmes together and then ask questions. Engage with your kids and see what they’re learning from the shows.
  9. Set a good example by limiting your TV viewing as well.
  10. Encourage non-TV activities, like riding bikes, doing puzzles, creating art projects, reading, dancing or even helping you cook.

You won’t be able to eradicate TV from your child’s life, but you can encourage better viewing habits. It’s up to you to take responsibility for your child’s education, rather than letting TV be their teacher.

At the Sunshine Association we believe that all children should be given the best possible start in life. Through our early intervention programmes we give children with disabilities and delays the support they need to cope with the pressures of the world.

If you would like more information about the Sunshine Association you can subscribe to our newsletter. You can also make a donation or help us with our wish list and make a difference in a child’s life.