Screens are part of the lives of many young children, but are they really good for them? Find out what are the consequences of too much screen time and how you can develop healthy viewing habits.
As a busy mum, you may be grateful that you have a television to act as a form of a surrogate babysitter when you need to concentrate your focus on other activities, such as the housework. But keeping your child occupied by sitting them in front of the screen in the corner can have serious negative consequences for your little one’s cognitive development, as it encourages passivity and can stifle their imagination. Television for all children should be limited. From the age of two years, your child’s total television viewing time should not exceed one hour a day and even that amount is a lot for an active toddler. Your television should be turned off when not being actively viewed, such as during mealtimes and you should restrict viewing to one room only, keeping it out of your child’s bedroom.
Choose what your toddler watches
Watching television should involve selecting the programs to be viewed, rather than just turning the set on and watching whatever happens to be on. Use a program schedule guide to determine the programs you want to watch. If you have a recording device, you can record programs in advance, meaning that you can choose the time you want to sit down with your little one. After you have finished the program, turn the television off and move on to another activity that will keep them occupied.
Choose calm and engaging programs
Some research suggests that children who watch violence on TV are more likely to display aggression, so you should avoid these shows even if they are marketed as being children’s shows. Youngsters are prone to copy-cat behaviour and will pick up cues from what they see being acted out on the screen. You should pick shows that are slow-paced to allow your toddler time to process the information on the screen – fast moving and action-packed shows can be confusing for them and won’t give them time to take in what they are seeing. Shows with frightening themes should also be avoided. The best programs are ones that engage with your toddler and encourage them to practice their language and motor skills, such as through spelling out the alphabet or to sing and dance.
Watch with your toddler and explain what’s going on in the shows
Watching television with your toddler should be a shared activity, with you helping to facilitate the enjoyment of the program, such as by joining in with play activities that are being demonstrated, or by encouraging the reciting of the alphabet and counting during educational shows. Ask your toddler questions about what’s happening to assess how well they understand what’s being shown. If you are watching a recording of a show, or a pre-recorded DVD, you can pause the program to make sure that your little one is enjoying the program and that they have comprehended its content and themes. You can rejoin the program when you are ready – but limit the number of pauses you make so that the program maintains its continuity.
Continue with after show activities
Once you have watched the show you selected for your toddler, you should turn the television off, but you can extend the value of the program you have watched by incorporating activities around it. If you have watched Sesame Street, which picks numbers and letters to focus on during each episode, you can bring these into your everyday activities. If the letter ‘A’ has been introduced, you can offer your toddler slices of apple and remind them that apple starts with the same letter you have been exploring in the program. If the number four has been discussed, the next time you go outside, you can ask your toddler the colour of the fourth car that you see and then count them off together.