Close and Captivating: On Television

The effects of television on children’s brain development is a shocking reality that encompasses many of the same developmental issues that are present in battery-powered toys. Television can cause over-stimulation in children, leading to behavioural problems and sleep disturbances. It can interfere with normal sensory, language, and interpersonal development, whether the child is directly watching the television, or if its just on in the background (which interrupts a child’s ability to focus and engage in their play on a deeper level).

Today, I want to engage you in a honest discussion about television and early childhood development.

Television and Early Childhood Development


Even when a child experiences no negative side-effects from watching television, it is important to remember that television is entertainment, not engagement, and while that is completely fine, we should not elevate its importance above more beneficial activities, and it’s important to note that there is no such thing as TV that is “good for them.” Some television shows are better choices than others, but there is no show that will stimulate your child’s brain in a better way than hands-on activities and reading to them.

Ideally, infant, toddler, and preschooler children should spend absolutely no time in front of the television, but that is an ideal and not necessarily reality in a lot of homes (definitely not ours). We can use small and spaced out amounts of television to introduce new ideas, observe things we don’t have the ability to experience first hand, and enjoy a bit of entertainment. These things can all easily come from books, but if we decide to allow television to be a part of our children’s environment, we can at least approach our television viewing with intention. Our children are not doomed if we allow them a bit of TV time, but television viewing can be a slippery slope that we come to accept as a regular installment of our children’s day and can gradually take up more time out of their days. The more television we allow our children to view, the more play gets displaced.

By involving children in household tasks, and setting up an engaging environment that they can easily occupy themselves within, parents don’t have to use the TV to get a few minutes to themselves. By giving our children calm environments that they can self-regulate within, they are no longer climbing all over us begging to be entertained. Television can easily become a self-perpetuating cycle: over-stimulating children to the point where parents need to distract them for a few minutes, so they turn on the TV, which overstimulates them…

I think a big source of confusion is that we sometimes don’t see the effects that television has on young children until after the tv has been turned off. Night terrors is an obviously example (and directly linked to television exposure), but television can give difficulties with emotional regulation or a child’s ability to focus several hours after they last watched tv. All children react differently to television, just as some seem more affected by sugar than others; some it will overstimulate them to the point of needing to sleep, and others will be bouncing off of the walls.

Personally, I allow an average of 20-30 minutes of television per day for my almost-3 year old and because we are authentically choosing our television time and options, I am 100% okay with our television use (and please keep in mind that on any given day, I can have up to six children in my home for up to twelve hours, so I get wanting to take a break). We frequently go days without ever turning the television set on, and when we do it is often a source of conversation and exploration — I make sure to discuss what Ella is watching and what her interpretation and response to these shows are; even if its just an innocent episode of Curious George, I want to know what she is taking away from it, and what impressions this influential media source is having on her.

I’m curious to hear your views on television use — how is television approached in your family?

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14 Comments

  1. My kids occasionally watch pre-selected shows (via Amazon Instant Video and DVDs), but most of the time they do not watch television. I think it’s okay to let a child watch, though, provided parents think carefully about what, how, and why children are watching. With four children, there is plenty of fun play going on, but when I only had two children I would sometimes let my two-year-old watch something so I could put the baby down for a nap. She actually learned a lot of sign language by watching signing time!

    1. I love how you say “what, how, and why” — those last two aspects are so often overlooked.
      My daughter learned most of her French from Little Pim DVDs, so I definitely think that select options can be wonderful!

  2. I have to agree with most of what you write here. My kids can watch TV, but not every day, and only for half an hour or so. Usually this happens Saturday and Sunday mornings when they wake up before I do. They are 8 and 10. I personally don’t watch TV at all, because nothing on it interests me. I would rather read or be active, and my kids are the same because they got used to that early on. I wish more people realized that TV is robbing their children of the important stuff.

    1. Thanks for stopping by 🙂 I love what you wrote in your recent post about TV and women’s magazines being the “sirens” encouraging us to consume consume consume. I feel like most children’s TV is the same for them, they can’t help but develop strong attachments to these characters and then marketing companies use that as leverage to sell everything from processed food to plastic toys.

  3. We use it sparingly for my two year old. Maybe 30 minutes a day. My downfall is when I (or either one of the boys) is sick. It is so easy to zone out in front of it (which Is the reason I really hate using it!). I love your words though- TV is entertainment, not engagement. It is NOT meant to be “white noise” while we do other things around the house either. Silence needs to be appreciated as well- it gives us time to think and focus!

    1. Absolutely! I often hear (from my dad, lol) that it’s “just on in the background” which is actually worse from a developmental standpoint than if my daughter was totally vegged out 🙂 I’m sure with the boys that you appreciate silence more than most!

  4. We strongly believe in no screen time before the age of two… this article comes handy jennifer… I am writing a few articles about technology.. pinning you for later. Thanks.

    1. Absolutely! I often hear (from my dad, lol) that it’s “just on in the background” which is actually worse from a developmental standpoint than if my daughter was totally vegged out 🙂 I’m sure with the boys that you appreciate silence more than most!

  5. I LOVE the idea of no screen time but I am not good at sticking with it. I am very selective about what my kids watch but we watch to much. My goal this summer is to cut us down to 30 mins a day. So far I am sticking to it. I notice a huge difference in my kids when they watch little to know tv. I think for our family, I am the down fall when it comes to TV…. I watch way to much

  6. This was a great article and I am going to feature you tomorrow on #laughlearnlinkup! Thanks so much for sharing! To be honest my kids watch wayyyy too much TV and I really want to limit it! Thanks for the info and encouragement! Tina

  7. Good post! We introduced simple TV shows like Curious George when my son was 2 but I find the more he watches, the more he wants. We strictly control it as I see how quickly children can become obsessive about it in a way. Background TV is terrible and definitely affects us whether we realize it or not. Have you seen Little Bear? It’s a cute one for preschoolers:)

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