Some experts on babies and young children feel that many parents are taking the easy option of using television (and computers) to ‘entertain’ their little ones too often nowadays – and for too long. Concerns are being raised over problems with socialising and relationship-building, concentration and communication difficulties, and health issues. Expert opinions vary – with some recommendations being ‘No TV until a child is at least three years old’!
On the other hand, there are many excellent television programs that are educational and stimulating – and fun. What you really need to do is to think about TV viewing, not just switch on the ‘babysitter’ and walk away.
As with other issues, most things are fine, as long as they are monitored and kept to reasonable limits. You think about what food and how much of it you give baby – what toys, etc. To be healthy and stimulating, everything needs to be age-appropriate and varied. The same should apply with TV viewing. Time in front of a screen should be balanced with time spent doing other activities – for young babies, playing peek-a-boo games, singing and looking at books, or going out in the stroller; for older children, painting, jigsaw puzzles, imaginative and outdoor play.
Watching TV can become another aspect of a varied daily routine that you and your baby can both enjoy and benefit from:
- Include ‘TV time’ as part of the daily routine.
- Choose a program that is specifically designed for your baby’s age group – good programs for young babies will be quite short, which is enough at this age. Programs will be longer according to the age group they are produced for.
- Let baby watch only one program – don’t leave him or her in front of the TV for long periods.
- Enjoy the program with your baby, and interact together – joining in with songs and actions.
- For an older child, extend TV viewing into further activities – a program about a farm can inspire drawing, making farm buildings with blocks, or a memory game using toy animals.
- Have specific viewing times. Don’t leave the TV on in the background all day. It can be distracting for baby – and you – and he or she could become confused by constantly hearing different voices and sounds, leading to delays in language development.
As children get older, computers enter the equation, and this also needs to be monitored and controlled. Set limits to the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen – which will be easier if viewing has been kept to a minimum from an early age – and avoid allowing a TV or computer in your child’s bedroom. And try to set a good example yourself by limiting your own TV viewing and computer use.
A child who has just come home from a busy morning in playgroup, or day at school, usually needs some time to ‘wind down’. But if you find yourself wondering if your child is spending too much time alone in front of a screen, this is probably a good indication that he or she IS doing exactly that. In the end, it is the parents’ responsibility to take control, to make sure that television doesn’t replace real play, socialising, and family interaction.
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