I was really happy to see a study highlighted on CNN this morning that determined there are possible benefits to young children watching television.
The key is what they are watching.
I love television. I love it, and I am not ashamed. Despite my mother calling it a “boob tube” my entire childhood (Why? There aren’t even any boobs on basic broadcast television… my mom always said we didn’t “need” cable, and she has stood by that………) I have always believed television has the power to be a phenomenal teaching tool.
As a nanny I have had parents who don’t allow any television the house, parents who allow some television and parents who let their kids watch whatever they want whenever they want for as long as they want, and I have been able to observe the affect their TV watching habits appear to have.
Obviously constant television time has a negative impact. The kids I’ve seen who are used to having their favorite shows playing during all their waking hours are much more irritable on a more frequent basis. Most of them throw tantrums as soon as the TV is turned off (even if they weren’t paying attention to it at the time). There is also a great lack of creativity in their play, and a decrease in play overall.
Kids who watch more of your traditional “cartoonie”, action-driven shows (you know, the type usually on Saturday mornings which lots of flashing bright colors and usually someone getting hit over the head with something) tend to crave this fast-paced entertainment, even outside of their television programs and demand constant stimulation be provided for them. They sometimes behave too intensely during play times and occasionally perturb other children.
On the other hand there are negative repercussions to denying television entirely as well. I’ve noticed that the children denied TV don’t know how to moderate themselves once they are in an environment where their parents’ restrictions don’t apply (try, as some parents might, you cannot keep kids within a specific bubble of restrictions at all times). When these kids finally get to a friend’s house who has Mickey Mouse DVD they will sit glued to it (on repeat) for hours on end. The entire time, if allowed.
Another thing I’ve noticed is children denied all television have a tendency to be more socially awkward. While this is not always the case I have seen a very strong correlation between kids who are not allowed any TV and having difficulties interacting with and making friends with other children.
Let me make it clear I am all for being an “oddball” and I kind of have a theory that if you’re a kid that gets made fun of you are probably doing something right. But I’m not talking about being more into reading nonfiction than playing soccer, I’m talking about the basic building blocks that make up our social structure; how to share, how to take turns, how to listen to others. Most, if not all, the children I have taken care of or observed for an extended period of time who were forbidden from ever watching TV struggled in these areas (though this isn’t to imply none of the children who do watch television don’t struggle with this issues at one point or another as well).
Yes, this could just be a coincidence. And it is a fact that there are many contributing factors to a child’s social behavior.
Margs loves Dora. Like, a lot, as do many kids I know.
Dora says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ every single time. As a result Margs said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at every possible occasion (until she grew up a little and observed that in the “real world” people are not always so polite…. so why should she?). One afternoon we were counting blocks and she counts “uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco!”… neither of her parents speak spanish.
These are two of many examples.
While I believe TV time should be limited, I don’t think putting a specific limit (for example thirty minutes or an hour a day only) is necessarily the best method for small children. Putting a specific and constant limit on television instantly turns it into a battle and kids (no matter how little) will instantly be thinking of ways to get around it, be it through begging or crying or sneaking.
What I have noticed is the most effective when it comes to television time is simply playing it day by day. One day it may be sunny and beautiful and the child may be full of energy and spend the entire day outside, watching no television. Other days a kid might not be feeling so well and want to spend most of the day huddled up on the couch with Barney. I don’t believe, when it comes to kids, that consistency needs to mean doing the exact same thing every day. I don’t see how that prepares them at all for life. I think consistency means the children knowing when they are told “only one more episode” it means only one more episode.
Parents should spend more time actively concerning themselves with what their children are watching instead of how long. I have spent more of my life watching early childhood television shows than I would care to count, and it is easy to tell the education versus entertainment oriented programs.
I think (like most everything) it’s all about balance.