How do we balance television and children ‘s well-being? As parents, we hear about the negative effects of television on children over and over again. Our children’s generation is much more connected to the media than we ever were. Nearly every home in the United States has access to the television (statistics say between 96 and 99% of families own at least one TV), and children watch approximately 3-4 hours a day.
During those long hours in front of the television, what do children watch? And how do the shows affect their physical, social, and mental well-being? While not all effects of TV are bad, the negative effects can outweigh the positive if children’s screen time is not limited and monitored carefully.
Children who spend a lot of their time in front of the TV don’t spend as much time getting the exercise they need. Obesity in the United States has been linked to increasing amounts of time spent in front of TV and computer screens. And commercials that portray fattening, unhealthy foods as desirable certainly don’t help children stay away from the fats and calories.
Children who watch excessive amounts of TV are not spending their time developing other skills. Whether they like sports, music, crafts, or other hobbies, TV time takes away from discovering other talents that will help them be happy, healthy, and fulfilled now and in the future.
Additionally, TV interferes with the development of fine motor skills and language comprehension in infants and toddlers. Babies and toddlers need to have real human interaction as their brains and bodies are developing, and TV doesn’t challenge them like interacting with and exploring the real world does.
Children under 8 years old are often unable to separate reality from fiction. They watch their favorite TV heroes act violently in the name of justice and learn that it’s ok to do bad things if you’re the good guy. They hear profanity on nearly every channel, and some of it may start to creep into their everyday language. They watch couples kissing, making out, and hear mentions of sex (or worse, see it) and learn that affairs, sex before marriage, and one-night-stands are acceptable. TV is probably not the way parents want their children introduced to sex.
Children are incredibly impressionable. Even if children recognize what behavior is unacceptable, images and language will stay with them. Research shows that kids who are more exposed to violence and negative behaviors on television are more likely to show aggressive behavior both as children and adults.
Furthermore, the more TV time a child has, the less time he or she has for social interactions with friends and family. It is vital that children learn good social skills at an early age so that
they can be more successful in the social world, the workforce, and family life as they age.
One of the effects of TV time is that it takes away from children’s educational opportunities. Kids who spend more time with the TV also spend less time with their homework. They sacrifice reading (which fosters healthy brain development, imagination, and educational opportunities) and sleep for the TV, which leads to poor performance in school; students who watch less TV consistently perform better in both school and social situations.
TV may seem like it allows children to use their imaginations, but simply watching imaginative programs does not mean that their own brains are working. Watching television is a passive activity, whereas reading or playing make-believe requires children to actively use their imagination.
Children believe what they hear and see on TV. They are constantly bombarded with commercials and programs implying that to be beautiful or popular they need to be thin and have perfect skin and clothes. This is especially true for young girls, who set photoshopped models and actresses up as a standard for beauty. This can be horribly damaging to their self-confidence and mental health.
How to Use TV
• Don’t use the television as a babysitter.
• Watch TV with your kids, so that you can explain controversial ideas or change the channel if the material is inappropriate. Not every commercial or show is going to need monitoring, of course—commercials for oil changes in Surrey are probably ok, and so are non-violent shows like The Backyardigans or Dora the Explorer.
• Turn off the TV during dinner—make mealtimes a time to interact with the family instead of the screen.
• Limit your kids to one or two programs a day, and then find other activities for them to do that will stimulate their bodies and minds.
• Encourage them to watch educational shows like Animal Planet or the Discovery or History Channels.
• Use TV as a teaching opportunity to educate kids about acceptable social and moral behavior.
Melanie Hargrave is a wife and homemaker whose family is her pride and joy.
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