The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of three not watch any television and that children over three watch a maximum of one to two hours a day. Most children, however, watch television before the age of three, so many parents are looking for a more realistic way to shield their children from the negative impacts of television. While limiting your child’s television viewing is one of the best things you can do for her brain development, limiting media consumption in a busy world can be nearly impossible. If you’ve decided to let your child watch some television but are still worried about its effects, here’s what you can do to limit the harmful impacts of media:
Preventing Harmful Impacts of Television: Ages 0-3
The first few years of your child’s life are a critical time for brain development. Your child is rapidly laying down neural connections in her brain, and around the age of three begins to trim down connections she’s not using. Thus it’s important to maximize her exposure to a variety of brain-stimulating activities. Television is not one of these activities, but a variety of studies have shown that the vast majority of children watch television before the age of three and most babies and young children watch about two hours of television per day. Despite the negative impacts of television viewing at this age, there are things you can do to make TV less damaging. These include:
-Use television as a background. One of the main concerns with television viewing at this age is that it is used as a substitute for other kinds of interaction, like reading and playing. Having television on in the background, however, can be less problematic if you’re engaging in quality interactions with your child.
-Don’t believe educational hype. Explicitly “educational” television may actually be worse for children, for a variety of reasons. It teaches a passive form of learning that does not work with the way children naturally learn. Further, some parents may engage in fewer educational activities with their child if their child is watching so-called educational television. While television may be able to teach your child a few letters or numbers, you can teach these same things to your children much more quickly and in a much healthier way for brain development.
-Choose television that mimics interaction. Television in which a person speaks directly to your child or that shows real human interaction is much more similar to the kinds of interaction children have without tv, and thus may be less harmful than more passive programming.
-Watch television together. Using television as a babysitter can actually alter the way your child learns and interacts. Watch television with your child as opposed to using television as a distraction to keep your child busy.
Protecting Your Child From Negative Media: Ages 3 and Up
After the age of three, the risks to brain and academic development of watching too much television remain, but there are also additional concerns. Much television models aggressive behavior and several studies have shown that children can learn negative ways of interacting from television. With that in mind, here are the best things you can do to limit the negative effects of television after the age of three:
-Don’t allow television in your child’s bedroom. When your child has a tv in her bedroom, there’s no way for you to monitor what she is watching or limit television viewing time. Televisions should be located in public family rooms and not in your child’s bedroom.
-Watch television together. Watching the programs your child is interested in with her can give you a window into her hobbies and provide a valuable opportunity to spend time together and talk about the programming.
-Use television as a springboard for conversation. Controversial programming can be an excellent opportunity to discuss family values about violence, sexuality, and other topics. If you see something troubling in your child’s favorite television programming, use it as an opportunity for discussion. You should also talk to your child regularly about her thoughts on the characters in her favorite television shows.
-Pick quality programming. After the age of three, children are old enough to internalize some positive messages from television. TV that models good values and healthy social interaction can have a positive effect in small doses, so make sure this is the kind of programming your child is watching.
-Encourage other pursuits. Many families spend most of their time together watching television, but it’s important to find other ways to spend time together. Read to your child daily and have family outings to the library, to the book store, to museums, and to other locations that provide more intellectual stimulation and interpersonal engagement than television can.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Harwood, Robin, Scott A. Miller, and Ross Vasta. Child Psychology: Development in a Changing Society. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.