Can TV really affect my toddler that much?

So we are all guilty, I’m sure, of using the television to entertain our kiddies while we need to make a phone call or answer an email or sometimes just to have a hot cup of coffee but do we actually know the effects it could be having on our children?

The American Academy of Paediatrics (APP) actually recommends that children under 2 years-of-age don’t watch ANY television at all and those who are older than 2 should only be watching 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day. This is not a surprise in term of the slightly older children but for under 2s to have no television what so ever is something most may struggle with, especially if there are older siblings in the house. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report that two thirds of infants and toddlers watch on average 2 hours per day.television

So why is T.V. deemed so detrimental to our children? There have been many reports over the years that have focused on the link between watching television and obesity but I’m focusing more on brain development in toddlers for this particular article. It has been suggested that T.V. and electrical media can actually interfere with your child’s natural exploration, role playing and interaction (with both peers and adults) development; all of these qualities are linked to healthy social and physical development in your toddler. It can actually harm vocabulary, motor skills and social skills as watching T.V. numbs their mind and they aren’t being intellectually challenged at all. Of course there are programmes that challenge this, but in general, your average cartoon won’t.

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While it has been noted that quality programming can help build on learning as they can secure their understanding of the alphabet and learn about wildlife etc, too much T.V. can become problematic. Both watching television and other electrical media can change brain development and can limit a child’s self-regulation skills which are fundamental for learning. In other words it can shape your child’s brain in such a way that it actually makes them less likely to be able to entertain themselves because you are in a sense hindering their ability to learn to role play, explore and interact with others thus entertain themselves. Too much television takes away the need for imagination and can reduce your child’s attention span, reduce impulse control and heighten aggression.

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For most, taking T.V. out of the equation all together is unrealistic, however, setting up activities during the day which include fantasy play, building blocks, arts and crafts, reading as well as interaction with family and friends can all help to develop the brains social skills, problem solving skills and creativity. This isn’t going to be an easy fix for those who are dependent on the television already but if you play with your child or read with them for 30 minutes, giving them the attention they crave, they will then happily play on their own while you get something done (our ultimate agenda!). The more your toddler gets used to this sort of play structure, the longer they will eventually play on their own.

It’s unrealistic to suggest a complete ban, as television can supplement learning (as well as give us a break!), however, some healthy T.V. habits that are good to get into are:

  • Break up viewing time into small chunks
  • No screens in bedrooms
  • Pick shows you want your child to watch, don’t just watch whatever is on
  • No T.V. during meals
  • Choose programmes that involve your child (get them to say words/sounds/sing/dance)

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