- Published on Wednesday, 26 May 2010 11:48
Is watching TV helpful or harmful to young children? An article was recently shared with me and got me thinking: How Much Television is Too Much? Science Weighs In (scroll to the end to read what other parents are saying).
After reading this article I thought, "Well. I think I'm sort of in the middle on this one. I see his point in some regards but I most certainly understand the worry of over-doing it, too. That is a legitimate concern of many parents." With the recent TOADY Awards shining a spotlight on some of the toys and shows being advertised to our young children, parents have every reason to question whether or not TV (and other media outlets) are harmful to a child's brain development.
Here's a little about my background, related to TV and non-TV viewing:
I was born in Australia and remained there until the age of 6. Our family then moved to the USA, returned to Australia when I was 10 and back to the USA when I was 11. For the first several years of my life, we had no television. My parents were highly active, taking us to museums, parks, traveling to various places, being involved with church (my father was the minister at that time), going for walks, playing in the pond across the street, taking care of pets and I remember clearly - the record player. My sister would play that darn song over and over again: "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." That song still plays in my mind, all these years later.
When we moved to the USA, everyone said, "No TV!? What? Are you kidding?" My parents decided to purchase a small black and white and placed that in the kitchen. It would run, from time to time, as my mother was cooking dinner. She enjoyed (still does) watching tennis and soccer above all else (I did not inherit that sports-love'n gene, nope. However, it does make her a ROCK'N grandmother for my now 11-year-old son.).
You'd have to ask my parents about the exact date but sometime during my later childhood we purchased a color TV and placed that in our family room. Every Friday evening we'd have TV night - rent a movie, buy junk food, etc. We did not have cable at any time during my youth (my parents still do not have cable to this day).
Every so often, mid week, we'd watch some TV but that was a rare thing. In fact, I saw General Hospital at a friend's home once and loved it. I'd sneak home from school now and again to watch GH at 2pm (please don't tell my parents - thanks).
I suppose my point to all of this is: the things I remember from my childhood are almost all non-TV related. I remember the time my folks spent with us. I remember piano lessons and books and my father's library. I remember attending church and making friends and going to the zoo. I remember horseback riding and fishing and going to camp. I remember my dad playing the piano while my sisters and I danced around, laughing and laughing. I think if my childhood had been filled with hours upon hours of TV, I'd have fewer memories of these other things. So - I love that my youth held so little TV viewing and so very many other activities.
All these years later, here are a few of my thoughts regarding TV:
- Do I think that TV time should be monitored? Yes (for both children and adults, in fact).
- Do I think that TV should be used a babysitter? No (although I sometimes do stick my kids in front of the TV when I'm tired and frustrated - I admit it).
- Do I think that putting a baby or toddler on the couch to watch an R rated movie is healthy and that parents should give no regard to the content their children soak up? No.
- Do I think that discretion is needed when putting TV on for our kids? Yes.
- Do I think that TV affects the way we think? Yes. I know that it does because TV affects the way I, myself, think. If I watch something uplifting, I feel happy. If I watch something depressing, I feel depressed. If I watch something offensive, I feel angry. If my daughter watches something scary, she won't sleep for two nights. So yes, I do think that TV affects the brain. Without a doubt.
- Do I think that TV can be beneficial? Yes. In fact, two days ago, my husband and I were chatting about our daughter. He knows that I am not a huge TV watcher and quite frankly, could live without TV completely (thanks to my parents who gave me so many other things to do that I never needed TV to fill my time). Our daughter loves watching Kipper (usually via ROKU). She now speaks with an English accent and says, "Oh, isn't that just brilliant!" It's hilarious. My husband said, "See?! She is learning from TV. She is more articulate now, well spoken and polite." After watching Kipper for a month, daily, she emulates his behavior: please, thank you, sharing, compliments, etc.
Another example of TV influence: my son used to watch The Simpsons at his father's house, among other shows that undermine the parent's authority and role. He'd return home and back talk his step-father and myself. We'd say, "Where on earth did you hear that?" He would reply, "On _____ the other night on TV. That's where."
More evidence, to us, that TV does impact the brain...which could go either way, of course (good or bad).
So how do I feel about the article I linked to?
My favorite portion of the above article (from Huffington) is this:
Instead of fighting the content of what people do, scientists should focus on the function. If someone watches television to recharge their batteries after intense socializing (because perhaps they are highly sensitive) and it works, then I say let them keep their strategy. If watching television helps an active, social child unwind at the end of the day and transition into their nighttime routine of brushing teeth, getting into their pajamas, and going to sleep, so be it. Sounds like a perfect strategy to regulate their mood. The reasons that people watch television can range from the helpful (learning about astronomy, recharging their energy supply) to the unhelpful (procrastinating from studying for an exam, avoiding other people because socializing is anxiety provoking).
Here's how it goes for our family:
- For me, TV is a calming experience at the end of an evening. I unwind with my family and together, we watch something.I love that down time and the cuddling, etc.
- My husband enjoys having CNN or the Today Show running in the morning. I typically walk by, after about a hour, and click the "off" button. It's a joke between us now - how long will Shara leave the news on before getting fed up with all the negative stories? My husband, though, can watch that material and never feel affected by it to any degree of intensity. He simply enjoys being informed and with a Political Science degree, he finds the political material interesting.
- When my son gets home from school he immediately asks to go on the computer. From there, he wants to put on the TV or play another electronic gadget. We allow him a little of everything but we do monitor his time because we believe that our children should be getting fresh air, free-play time, learning to self regulate, engaging with each other and spending time together as a family, un-plugged (great article here by Michele Borba, regarding kids and their "plugged in" time).
- Our daughter (3), as mentioned, enjoys Kipper, Veggie Tales, Caillou, Wiggles, My Little Pony, Dinosaur Train and other various PBS shows. She also LOVES to read and be outside so she gets a pretty good mix of everything on a daily basis.
- The baby (boy - 18 months) doesn't give a hoot about TV (although he does enjoy dancing to My Little Pony from time to time).
Am I anti-television?
Some of you saw me tweet and post about "TV Turn-Off Week" not long ago. I quickly learned that a few folks assumed I am anti-television (some nasty comments followed on twitter). This is not the case. I simply believe, after working with children for over 20 years now, and having three of my own, that TV should not be made the primary source of entertainment in the home (or day care center). TV shows do affect brain development, mood and thinking patterns. I've watched it, seen it and tried to un-do some of the damage with the kids I nannied and with my own children.
I, myself, have actually only enaged in full-on TV Turn-Off Week once. This was many years ago; the first year I found out about TV Turn-Off Week, in fact. I thought, "Heck. I'll give that a shot and see how it goes." That week is now a memory I treasure. I was a single mom at the time and my son and I played games, did puzzles, went outside, visited museums and more. That quality time was fabulous and lives in my heart, to this day. So why haven't I fully participated in TV Turn-Off since then? We already have a pretty good balance of TV viewing here. Therefore, everything I posted about (games, crafts, outdoor time, talking as a family, etc) is already in place for us. For me, that one TV Turn-Off Week was a wonderful experience and helped me gain an understanding of what could be done when the TV is off. From there, I have implemented those ideas year after year, month after month, as a natural part of our family structure.
I do, however, highly recommend giving it a try. I learned so much that week and carried over the lessons long-term. I think every family would benefit from shutting the TV off (even if you create your own Turn-Off Week) and seeing just how much can be done, together, when the television is simply not an option. You'll learn a great deal about yourselves, your family dynamic and the many entertainment alternatives around your home and town.
If you are like us, though, and already have a pretty healthy balance, who cares? Why worry about it? Really - no need to get knickers in a bunch if you see me tweet or post about "non TV related" ideas. I'm not judging you. Really.
Wrapping Things Up:
My advise: Every family is different. Every child is different. I have shared my own thoughts with you and you may agree or disagree. Either way, I would advise that we be mindful of what our kids are watching. If you find that a program is harmful to them (gives nightmares, creates a sense of disrespect, aggitates or angers them), then cut that program from the viewing menu. On the other hand, if you find that a program is helping your child learn, count, sing, spell, do math, read or engage in polite behavior, by all means, enjoy. If you find yourself using TV as a babysitter, pull back and think about other ideas to engage your child. You will find all sorts of ideas here, on the Early Childhood site, in fact (sensory, play, music, printouts, games, outdoor time and more). If you feel that your family already has a healthy TV viewing balance, fine - great - no worries, mate.
Just in case you are wondering what shows I, personally, like to watch, here are my favorites:
- MONK (off the air now but lives on in my heart, day after day, month after month)
- ED (also off the air but still an all-time favorite of mine - brilliant writing - witty and charming)
- Psyche (I laugh so hard when watching this show)
- The Mentalist (the wit is what gets to me)
- Castle (again - the wit)
- The Big Bang Theory (intelligent writing - very clever)
- News Radio (we watch re-runs through Netflix)
- The Office (silly and hilarious)
Do you wonder what other families put on for their kids?
I questioned parents on facebook and twitter about their child's viewing likes. Here are the 14 responses I received (no edits were made to their comments):
- I have an 18 month old and he loves to Watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny and Go Deigo Go. I think these cartoons are educational and interactive with the children. He loves when they sing too...
- Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, SuperWhy, Curious George & The Backyardigans are the favorites in our house. I like the Backyardigans the best - catchy music, bright colors and LOTS of imagination. As far as DVD's The John Deere Tractor series is great - educational and what little boy doesn't love tractors and trucks!
- Before the kids got into school, they would watch Muzzy :-)
- When Krystal was a Baby, we did the Baby Einstein, and things that sang the ABC's & 123's. Badkyardigans she liked too, Dora & Deigo (they teach colors numbers and letters and even spanish). I dont remember all of them lol there werent many.
- I think The Upside Down show is very clever. Educational, interesting, kind, fun...
- Hands down the best shows for early childhood are Blues Clues and the Leapfrog Learning DVD's. My daughter started watching the Leapfrog series at just over 2 yrs old and now with 4mos to go until she turns 3 she can recite the Alphabet, sound out every letter, recognize both small and capital letters, and spell 3 letter words. Amazing! The Blues Clues series has helped me teach her things like colors, shapes, everyday items, sharing, cleaning, etc... Following closely behind would be the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series which focuses the basics like numbers, simple math, categories, and sorting. Studies show that repetition in early childhood makes a huge impact in memory and recognitive skills. I'll choose a program and play it once a day for maybe 3 or 4 days before switching to something else. By then, my daughter knows the show and the lessons inside and out and can apply the knowledge she has learned.
- we love Jack's big music show, both of my daughters love all the variety of music and of course Laurie Berkner, and Word World and Super Why are our other favs...learning letters and words.
- I may be old school, but we still like Franklin and Thomas the best!
- I love PBS for the most part. My 2 favorites are Super Why and Word World which both focus on letters\spelling\reading. They're also cute and not annoying which is important since I watch the shows with Amber. She also likes Barney and Sesame st as well :-)
- Yo Gabba Gabba is on Nick Jr. Same chaanel as Dora, Diego & Wonderpets (another fave w/ my kids.)
- My daughter is 8 - we let her watch Bindi the Jungle girl, Suzie's world (NZ kids science show), Matilda is as scary as we get
- I always LOVED "Franklin" and "Little Bear"...very nurturing parents that always stayed calm. We should emulate them!
- Yo Gabba Gabba, Little Einsteins & Backyardigans are current faves in our household. Max & Ruby too - which I loathe!
- Tessa and I watch about 15-20 minutes every night as part of the bedtime routine. We watch online playlists.
ABOUT the Author:
Shara Lawrence-Weiss is the owner of Mommy Perks, Personal Child Stories, Early Childhood News and Resources and Kids Perks (coming soon). She has a background in education, early childhood, nanny work, published freelance, marketing and special needs. She is an avid TV watcher and watches anywhere from 9-17 hours of televison per day (just seeing if you read all the way to the end of this ridiculously long commentary piece).