Monday, 14 June 2010

TV and Kids - Is This a Good Babysitter Substitute?

Busy parents are always on the look out for how to occupy their babies and young children while they do what they need to do. Many of these parents will turn to television as a substitute babysitter. In this post we will look at some important facts that do have an effect on the development of your child. These factors should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to use television at all with your children and if so when, how, how long?

In his book Touch Points, The Essential Reference - Your Child's Emotional and Behavioural Development Dr T. Berry Brazelton, Paediatrician, outlines some very important factors related to your childs health and development.

What transpires when a small child sits infront of a television? Usually their eyes focus very  intently on the screen and their face, head and body will be still, immobilized. This intense concentration causes stress on the body, which will have an effect on the childs health. In addition, any loud noise, sudden interruption, someone calling him / her will result in a startle response. This startle highlights how deeply they were concentrating on the television. 

Such intense concentration is difficult for small children, especially over an extended period of time. If engaged in a different activity, a child concentrating with all their energy on the given task will let off steam by crying or throwing a tantrum, unless the parent knows how to re-channel the energy that has built up. A child that sits glued to a television is not experiencing any form of activity that will enable them to release pent up energy. As Dr Brazelton states "I worry about the cost of such intensity. A child's entire physical and mental capacity is involved in watching television. Her body passive but tense. Muscle tension reflects a stressed, not relaxed child. This combination of inactivity and tension is physiologically demanding" (Pg 410 in the book listed above)

If one is to place your child watching Television, watching with them and discussing various points does help to break up this deep concentration.

Psychologically there is also a price to pay. The high level of concentration will generally result in a child breaking down afterwards. Dr Brazelton states that parents should seriously consider whether with children under 4 years of age, this price is worth paying. In addition, children become fixated on items that are presente in advertisements. Unless a parent is ready to purchase whatever their child pressurises them into purchasing, it is better to keep adverts to a minimum or eliminate them all together.


For those who use television only for very short periods of time, 20 minutes at most, programs that are educational e.g. Sesame Street or a DVD with childrens nuresery songs in a ring and the children singing along, can have certain benefits, but only in moderation and with supervision.

When a parent places a child infront of regular television, with any program that is showing and intersperced with advertisements, in addition to the physiological and psychological effects of just being in one position engrosed in the television, the content also has an effect. Studies show that children watching something negative or violent will tend to have agreesive behaviour immediately after completing watching. If the program contains explicit language or negative speech, this will be acted out by your child.

The television does have a very strong impact on the thought processing and cognitive development including development of values and beliefs. If you wish to have a positive influence on your child, I would recommend preferrably not using the television, and where it is used, only for 20 minutes at a time, not every day and only with DVD that is appropriate for children.

Lastly, please remember, although children do need some quiet time e.g. when preparing for bedtime, children do need to play, run about, explore, interact with their environment. Immaginative play is a very important component of developing creative thinking. There must be adequate time allocated to these tasks and activities in order for a child to develop and grow optimally. Hence, other than the effects on the childs physiology itself, parents should be careful to ensure that the child will have time for the very important activities and play that will be of benefit to him or her and not use television as a means of escape for a parent. 

In another post, we will look at alternatives to provide quiet time and means for a child to relax in preparation for peaceful and effective sleep.

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