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.
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?