In today’s technological age, far too many parents have come to the realisation that the TV is a free and readily available babysitter. This has resulted in far too many toddlers being left to watch TV as their parents hurry around preparing meals, helping older children with homework, or simply tending to their chores for the day.
Even though very convenient, research proves that too much TV can be detrimental to both the physical and emotional development of the child. Rather than permitting the child to be babysat by the TV, parents are urged to find other ways to keep their children entertained.
- A child who spends a total of four hours (or more) per day in front of the TV is far likely to develop weight problems later in life. Not only is the TV encouraging non-activity, but kids are more likely to snack on chocolates or chips while watching TV. Muscle development is affected as children need to be outdoors, in the fresh air, exercising their muscles and playing. Kids learn a great deal through play and if natural play is not enjoyed, learning is prevented.
- While playing with objects such as beads, blocks, etc. the toddler will develop his fine and gross motor co-ordination skills. These are the building blocks for later life and are a vital part of learning. Toddlers who have had limited TV viewing time, have shown to be far more stimulated by regular school activities and have also been able to cope better with forming letters as they are able to hold the pencil correctly.
- For the most part children’s cartoons are generally harmless and fun, but there are cartoons which openly encourage violence or aggressive behaviour. Sensitive children may be affected by these cartoons. Toddlers are often unable to distinguish between fact and fiction and they may feel uneasy about the -cartoon violence’ displayed on the screen. They may also mimic the actions of the cartoon characters.
- If a child’s TV viewing is not monitored, children will watch anything and they will often be lured by adult-content shows. These may advocate negative habits, like smoking, and the toddler will quickly pick up on the swearwords or other derogatory terms used in adult-content films or shows.
- Toddlers who spend too much time watching TV will not develop important social skills. These skills are only developed by interacting with other children and if a toddler is shut up all day, they will not be able to develop these along with many other essential life skills.
- Of late, a lot of research is being conducted into ADD and TV watching. Much of the research has in fact confirmed that the continual flashing of images on the screen may very well be a direct cause to the disorder. This may explain why ADD and ADHD has increased dramatically since the late 1970s when TV watching (in South Africa) became a normal family pastime.
- Advertisers are smart and they try to sell products, like sweets, sugary treats, hamburgers and of course toys by targeting the child. The child will want all that is seen, and will expect parents to rush out and purchase the latest toys, or the brand new cereal on the market – just to get the free toy advertised.
Alternatives to TV Watching
Parents need to look for other ways to stimulate their children’s minds and bodies. Some ideas include:
- Limiting TV time (only allow the TV to be on for a maximum of one and a half hours per day).
- Never have the TV while the sun is shining.
- Set a good example for your toddler and try to limit your own TV viewing until after their bedtime.
- While cooking, or doing other household chores, pack a box full of toys for the toddler to rummage through.
- Purchase different colours of play dough and let the toddler work in the kitchen with the dough, while mom prepares the family meal.
- Visit the park a few times a week.
- Let kids page through magazines or have a stack of colouring-in book readily available.
- Read as often as possible to the toddler and try to encourage a love of books from an early age.
- Tell stories – kids have over-active imaginations and they love to share their ideas. Give them a sentence and ask them to make up the next one, the game can continue as long as possible.
- Never have a TV in a toddler’s bedroom. This will encourage TV watching and busy parents will have little control over when the television is being watched or what is being watched.
- During TV time, try to spend most of the program watching with the toddler. Become involved with the program and ask questions.
Several childcare experts have recommended that toddlers under the age of four should watch little or no TV, while children over four should be limited to a maximum of one and a half hours TV viewing per day.
There are a good number of high quality, educational television programs which may benefit the child; however, TV time as a whole should be kept to an absolute minimum. Play is vital and when hours are spent cooped up inside, the toddler will never learn the joy of outdoor play.
– Kathy Baron