A Smarter Beginning 

How Does TV Affect Families with Young Children?

March 10, 2014 / by Susan Sirigatti

451665762_6b5b2ce0e3Children watch TV and other screen media today more than ever before. Why? What role does it play in their lives and in their family life?

TV Watching Among Young Children

On an average day, 88% of 2 to 3 year olds spend time on screen media (30% spend 1 to 2 hours a day, 41% spend 2 hours or more a day, and 17% spend less than 1 hour). Of 4 to 6 year olds, 89% spend time on screen media (32% spend 1 to 2 hours a day, 43% spend 2 or more hours, and 14% spend less than 1 hour). For children under the age of 2, 61% spend time on screen media (22% spend 1 to 2 hours daily, 14% spend 2 or more hours daily, and 25% spend less than 1 hour a day). (www.kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/7500.pdf). This is despite the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that there should be no screen time for children under the age of 2 and screen time of no more than 2 hours a day for older children.

The Busy Family

To help explain why this is occurring, let’s take a look at a woman I know with a husband and 3 children. Her husband works full time and she’s been a mostly stay at home mother except for some few hours of tutoring she does during the week. It’s up to her to run the house, to drive and pick up the kids from their various activities, to help them with their increasing amounts of homework, to prepare meals, to take care of the cleaning, the shopping and the laundry. By the time she and her husband go to sleep each night, they’re both exhausted. Does TV play a role in this woman’s home? You bet it does. And it plays a role in the homes of increasing numbers of families with children. Add to that the other devices besides TV that are given to children today: videos, DVD’s, and tablets in addition to the cable channels and programs especially for them.

Basically, TV and other screen media make life easier for a lot of parents, especially those with busy, complicated schedules. It gives them time to take care of various chores, to get dressed, to have a peaceful meal and to keep the kids entertained. For some, it’s also a form of family entertainment for everyone to participate in together. Parents also regard the media as a possible source of learning and as examples of positive social behaviors to be emulated by their children.

Equally important to them is that it’s an activity which takes place in the safety of the home. No dangerous strangers around, decreased possibility of physical injury. Parents also use media as a means of discipline, denying it as a punishment and granting it as a reward.  The TV is even used to calm kids down before bedtime. No doubt about it. Media performs many functions, especially for busy, tired parents.

The Negatives

Certainly, parents have many good reasons for allowing their children to watch TV and to use other media, but are they aware of the negatives? Do they know that research shows watching violence on TV causes aggressive behavior in children? Have they heard that fast paced programs and games can cause attention problems later on? Do they know that “TV exposure may impair children’s theory of mind development and this impairment may be partly responsible for disruptive social behaviors”? (www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-11/ica-pet111913.php)

And do they consider that time spent on media is time not spent playing, reading, interacting with adults such as parents and grandparents, playing alone and engaging the imagination, physical activity, experiencing nature, having first-hand social interactions with other children and adults and not engaging the real world?

Most parents have probably heard it all. Nevertheless, TV and other media use for children will doubtless continue and perhaps even increase since for many families, life would be much more difficult without it. This being the case, what can parents and educators do to help make TV and other media a positive influence in children’s lives?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

Photo credit: marktrash/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND




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