Sitting down in front of a television is a normal part of almost everyone’s day. Some studies have shown that by the time an American reaches age 70, they will have watched, on average, at least seven full years’ worth of television. That’s a whole lot of time in front of the tube.
Many parents wonder, though, how much time is appropriate for their children to spend watching television.
We all remember our parents worrying about this same issue, telling us that our eyes would turn square or our brain would turn to mush if we spent too much time watching cartoons.
In today’s world, children have access to more entertainment than ever, so it’s essential for adults to consider how much is appropriate.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and risks of television time, and some information about smart limits to place on your kids’ viewing.
This article will focus on young viewers under the age of five. Although, much of this information does pertain to older children as well!
Consequences of Too Much TV
The first thing we should establish is that there are, in fact, real consequences from having young children watch too much television.
Imaginary vs. Reality
The main problem that researchers find when they look at this issue is that children have trouble understanding the difference between the world around them and the world they see on the TV screen.
You’ve probably observed this if you’ve ever tried to talk to a young viewer about whether or not their favorite superhero is real.
While everyone eventually grows up and learns about this distinction, children just beginning their television viewing often cannot understand that what they are seeing is just make-believe.
This problem feeds into specific behavioral issues that reveal themselves when children watch television.
Because the child might not understand the people on TV aren’t real, the child accepts them as role models in the same way they recognize their real-life parents as role models. This leads to blind imitation of what the characters on television do.
Now, this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the television characters always acted the way we’d like our children to act, but we all know that isn’t the case.
Lots of excellent TV shows feature characters whining, throwing fits, or making bad decisions- usually for the sake of making the show funny or dramatic.
While older viewers know not to imitate Batman when he punches the bad guy in the nose, young viewers don’t always know why punching isn’t acceptable.
A Few Benefits to Consider
I know a lot of parents who have decided to keep their children away from television altogether, which is honestly an accomplishment in itself.
However, while I admire that choice, I can also tell you that there are plenty of benefits to viewing the right kind of programming.
Keep it Educational
Studies have shown that children who view educational and positive, social messages and videos are likely to try to emulate the concepts they see. It’s the same process we were talking about earlier, but if the messages they receive are healthy, then everything works in our favor.
Also, I think most parents could agree with how nice it is to have an activity that will consistently keep their children entertained for a little while.
Being an engaging parent or baby sitter is very important, but some days it’s challenging to have a craft ready to go or the energy to clean up after a messy board game or activity.
If you find yourself parking your kids in front of the TV to get a break, know that there’s nothing wrong with that! However, there are some steps you should take to make sure their TV time is well spent.
Strategies for TV Time
The most critical thing you must do concerning your children’s viewing habits is to take control of what they’re watching.
There is no shortage of high-quality children’s programming out there, but there’s also a whole lot of junk.
Don’t let your kids drive the bus here: decide on a list of acceptable programs and only allow your child to choose what they watch from that list.
Limit Time in Front of the Screen
In terms of the time they spend watching, any way you look at the situation, it’s important to keep things to a bare minimum.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you keep newborns away from screens entirely.
They also recommend that toddlers and young children get no more than one hour per day in front of any sort of screen.
Do your best to stick to this guideline as much as possible. Keep in mind that this guideline is for total screen time – pay attention to time spent in front of the tablet, computer, or phone.
Talk About What They’ve Learned
Finally, to make sure your children are learning the lessons you want them to learn, be sure to talk to your children about the television they watch.
Make sure you understand what they’re taking away from their television experience. You can even take the opportunity to have conversations about what they learned. Watch out for signs that your children are becoming too attached to the television.
When your kids grow up, they will eventually be entirely in charge of their TV habits. You can’t keep them away from poor messages and programming forever.
But in the earliest stage of life, you can help them develop a healthy relationship with television and technology in general.
By focusing on quality programming and making sure your children stay grounded in the real world, you can get all the best TV has to offer without having to worry about the negative side effects.