Worried About Too Much TV?

We’re all going to be giving ourselves a little guilt trip over the amount of TV our children may watch over the coming weeks. Especially if you’re trying to get some work-from-home done. So, I just want to give you all a break and summarise some of the positive research on telly watching.

Talking up a storm

Several studies have shown how toddlers’ language can in fact benefit from television.  One found that babies and toddlers learned vocabulary, in particular shapes, colours, letters and numbers from watching Sesame Street.  Dora the Explorer was also positively related to expressive language production and vocabulary, and daily viewing over 6 weeks resulted in 13 more vocabulary words on average at 30 months old.

Another study showed children aged 3 scored higher on school readiness, reading, number skills and vocabulary, if they were regular watchers of Sesame Street. These gains were even greater if caregivers had children participate in a 30 minute lesson following on from the program watched. For example, viewing a program on insects and then going to the park to find some ants and ladybirds enhanced the total learning experience. 

Are early TV watchers’ highflyers?

When it came to the impact of early viewing on academic achievement at school, research is also encouraging. High school students (particularly boys) who had watched Sesame Street as pre-schoolers achieved better grades in English, Maths, and Science in Junior and Senior school. Research revealed they read more often, had greater academic self-esteem, and valued academic performance more highly.  To test this hypothesis, researchers in a study called Does television rot your brain?’ looked back at academic achievement in the pre television 1940’s and found that pre-schoolers who watched television performed better in reading and general knowledge.

Stealing the imagination

Television is often criticised for squashing a child’s imagination and making them lazy. Yet research demonstrates that younger children use their experience of television in play, imitating Tree Fu Tom’s magical moves or playing Princesses and Pirates for example. In this way, as long as the content is good, television stimulates make-believe and acts as an important outlet to express feelings and fantasies.

I’ve often got my children baking after an episode of Cbeebies I Can Cook. Mister Maker is an excellent platform for getting the craft box out and building a rocket out of loo roll. And I’ll never forget the day my daughter pointed at a word in a book we were reading and said C A T; it must’ve been the episodes of Alphablocks she loves to watch.

Children who flick through a picture book, watch a play, or listen to a story on tape also consume fantasies produced by others, but nobody has ever argued that books or theatre hinder a child’s imaginative play. With this in mind, there’s little reason to assume that TV, if used appropriately, does either.

That said, it’s all about balance!

Ask yourself; have I had a meaningful interaction with my child today? Spending excessive hours in front of the TV leaves less time for other social or intellectual activities. In the long term this could make a child less imaginative and creative than a child whose TV viewing hours are carefully regulated.

Here’s how to help your child get the most out of TV:

  1. Choose quality content – one that offers possibilities for interaction and new experiences
  2. Makes sure TV is age appropriate as this is when learning is optimal
  3. Follow up a viewing with a related activity or discussion to reinforce learning.
  4. Keep viewing times short
  5. Know what your child is watching as even Disney can be scary at times
  6. Don’t leave TV on in the background
  7. Make it a special event, where you all cuddle up to a movie
  8. Most importantly, keep TV out of your child’s bedroom!!

Amazon has made some of its kids content free, even if you don’t have Prime. Do you know any other similar offers available? Please let me know, so we can spread the word.

Together we can get through this!

Published by carolinementzer

Caroline Mentzer is a Nutritional Therapist, Herbalist and Writer from Oxford, UK. Married to and Infectious Disease doctor, her blog discusses the benefits of combining holistic and conventional approaches to find unique solutions to many health and parenting challenges.

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