As a stay at home mum, I am confronted with the option of switching on the television several times a day. As a child I enjoyed growing up watching Friday night comedies and Sunday evening nature documentaries with my family; but I can also do without TV, forgetting to switch it on for a month at a time, being too busy with other pursuits. I am very mindful of the fact that television is a relatively new tool in the history of human parenting. My father, who was born into a poor home in South Africa in the 1950’s only had a television as part of his home furniture when he was 24 years old and he is one of the most intelligent people I have had the privilege of knowing. That being said, TV has become a powerful and tremendous part of human culture. If TV is omitted from a child’s life, it could make them feel socially excluded or cut-off from the rest of the world (this, of course, only becomes a factor after a certain age). Television is also a powerful learning tool, exposing us to a variety of cultures, religions, races, interesting animals from different habitats, information on hobbies and interests, and beautiful places, all of which we cannot hope to physically experience in our short lives. But I am also of the view that too much of TV can be a hindrance to optimal mental development, especially at the critical brain development age between birth and two years when the brain’s neurons are forming trillions of connections. Like most things in life, and especially with our children, when it comes to television, control is important for optimal development.
TV and Natures Physical Laws
From birth to about eight months of age I did not allow my son to watch any television at all; it was only later that that he was allowed short periods of television. The reason for this? Babies are learning everything from scratch, including how their physical world behaves. Let us consider the simple example of a baby trying to obtain a rolling ball. With observing the ball rolling multiple times, she will eventually be able to predict where the ball is going to be at a certain time, based on its trajectory and speed; and she will learn how to move in the right direction and at the right pace to obstruct it at that time. When she swipes at the ball and the ball rolls away she is beginning to understand the concept of inertia where an object will continue to be in a state of motion or a state of rest until a force is exerted upon it. With practice she also may begin to understand the relationship between force and speed and later on she will begin to understand the relationship between the angle of the force she applies and the resulting direction of the ball. So much can be gained from a simple interaction of a baby and a ball. This is just one example of the many physical interactions and experiences your child will be having as she develops her motor skills and understanding of her complex environment. Now imagine this same child watching a ball rolling around on television where there are a multitude of inconsistencies and even contradictions when it comes to physical laws of motion and what I fear to be the most confusing of all… the constant scene changes. When you introduce television too early, given the differences from physical reality, it makes it harder for your baby to realise what these physical laws are and therefore harder for your baby to function in his or her physical world. Babies are too young to tell the difference between physical reality and television and therefore their little brains cannot yet explain these many contradictions. Although it may be true that every child will probably gain an understanding of the physical laws of nature eventually, I do believe that TV at an early age can delay this process and this could have a knock on effect with other things such as motor skills. Do not take for granted that those things that seem obvious to you will be easily learnt by your tot.
Do you leave the television on even when your child is busy with other activities? There can be consequences to this common and often unintentional act.
If you have an audible television or music on constantly in your home it is possible that it can make it more difficult for your child to associate sounds with activities taking place, whether it be activities he is busy with, activities going on in the home, or even outside the home. You will want your child to be able to tell what is happening around him and where it is happening based on what he can hear. If a television is on and audible all the time then it removes some of the opportunity for your child to learn the sounds of his world as well as the opportunity to associate these sounds with their sources. However, a good dose of background music is believed to positively stimulating and highly recommended for developing children, given of course that it is a good choice in music and given that you moderate this with quiet time too.
Furthermore, I believe that television sounds can drown out the sounds of words and conversations being spoken around the child and even those words directed at the child, thus delaying the ability to comprehend and form words.
Content of TV
Often cartoons and programmes, even those aimed at young audiences, use certain bad character traits such as lying, violence or competitiveness to create an interesting story line. Considering the limited exposure your child has to the outside world to develop its picture of what society deems as normal, you should tightly control the content to which your child is exposed. After all, it is our foremost responsibility to impart good values to our children.
Also used to spice up plots are scary characters, or even worse, scary situations. This not only puts stress on your child during the viewing session, but can thereafter be the subject of your child’s nightmares and has the potential of creating life-long fears. I remember my little brother’s crippling fear of aliens, and my own fears that remained with me for years as a result of such programmes. Children can also become quite emotionally effected by sad things that appear on TV, whether in the form of a drama, news report or documentary.
On the other hand, television has been observed to lead to emotional desensitisation. People become less responsive to another’s pain and suffering possibly when they have been over exposed to these concepts through television.
Television and toddlers
Perhaps my biggest gripe with television as a mum of a 3 year old is that television is too interesting. When exposed to such high levels of stimulation, my child either acts out if over-stimulated or is not as interested in doing less interesting things such as reading which is a better experience for them.
TV and The Parent
Perhaps the most damaging part of having the TV on, is what it does to me as a parent. When the television is on I don’t feel compelled to think of another activity for my son to engage in, the conversations and interactions between us are drastically reduced… in fact I get caught up in his programming too and become a “TV zombie”. This is, I suppose, acceptable some of the time; but if it becomes a habit it could be potentially damaging to parent child relationships, children’s language skills, and many, many other skills as it reduces all manner of beneficial activities. It is important to remind ourselves that family time should include a variety of activities including sitting together watching TV, conversation, prayer and plenty of games. This holds true not just for families but for couples too.
Even after recognising the negative aspects of television, I watch my son clap to a song and delight in recognising a word or animal that he is familiar with and I have to recognise that television is a powerful educational tool and a fun part of our culture. I will continue to allow my son to watch television and I have to admit, I will enjoy TV time with him but I will limit the time spent watching television until such time that he is able to manage it responsibly himself.
Tips for TV Control:
- Don’t allow TV before the child displays an awareness of basic physical laws.
- When the child does start watching TV, keep it to a minimum time period. As parents we must make an effort to be conscious of the duration that the television is on for, and remind ourselves of other beneficial activities your children could be participating in instead. Keeping TV viewing time within controlled limits ensures that other beneficial, stimulating activities are not neglected
- Do not keep the television on while the child is busy with other activities.
- Control what is being watched, make sure it is age appropriate and that the values displayed are what you would want your child to adopt.
- Use the television to reinforce lessons you have taught, e.g. this is a crocodile.
- Avoid emotionally straining programming that can cause unnecessary stress on your child.