TV: Am I Doing this Right?

As far as you may try not to let your little one watch TV, the tube can sometimes come in handy when you need to get lunch started or when you need to reply to a quick email. But what impact does the media have on kids? MH speaks to the experts.

WORDS DR NICOLA DAVIES

In today’s world, it is a stark reality that many families must work – both mother and father. Family life must be balanced with professional goals. Another reality of the modern world is technology. Television, computers, tablets and mobile devices permeate our daily life. They add great convenience and command great multi-tasking ability, but there are risks. A perplexing question faced by mothers of the 21st century is: “I’m busy at this moment in time, so what can I do with my child…can I let them watch television?”

Why am I Feeling Guilty?
Have you come home from work a little late, picked the kids up from daycare and still need to cook dinner, or finish a project? Perhaps your child is only three years old and needs constant attention. An easy solution? Turn on the television. This is a simple solution, yet a source of much anxiety for many parents. TV can be enriching and educational, and decidedly impressionistic to a young child. So, for a mother who is concerned about the true impact of TV on their child, let’s explore some options with the help of a child-media expert, Christopher J. Ferguson.

Psychology Chair of Stetson University of Deland, Florida, Ferguson, has some encouraging news. As long as TV viewing is kept in balance with other parent/child interactions, a little TV is fine. “If parents need to use TV a little so that they can have a shower or take a nap…this will probably refresh the parents for better interactions with their children later,” he says. If parents need a break, take a break, it’s really okay. Ferguson continues, “I think one of the big mistakes that paediatricians, in particular, have made in advising parents is to imply that parents must be always on, always interacting with their kids…” A parent must refresh themselves, and if moderate TV viewing creates this open space, it’s part of the balance parents seek.

Children Aged 0 - 3 and TV
The learning curve in the first three years of a child’s life is phenomenal. Kids at this age readily absorb a lot of information they come into contact with. However, they do not yet have the attention span for older children’s shows. During the first few months, in particular, such shows would hold no value to an infant who is learning about the world they live in. Sounds and colours are most beneficial to a child at this time and DVDs with music and colours or other babies would be fascinating to the developing mind. By the time you are dealing with an active toddler, the shows specific to this age group would appeal to the inquisitive mind with a short attention span.
Build a good daily routine for your children – mealtimes, day-care, play, rest, and social interaction. If your children do watch TV, have a structured time, and do it together. Share questions as you learn and laugh together.

Studies show that children do, in fact, pick up new vocabulary and ideas from TV. A parent must follow-up and reinforce the learning throughout the week, however.

 Also, it is important not to substitute imaginative shows for home-grown imagination. A child’s own make-believe world is far better than watching one. As nurturing parents, be clear that television is simply a brief pleasurable activity, not a basis for learning.

Violence, the Dark Side of Media
As parents are all too aware, television and the media, in general, is rampant with violence and shocking images. Thankfully, studies reveal no definitive link between TV and youth violence. However, the majority of psychologists agree that prolonged exposure to such images isn’t healthy.  
Two ideas bear closer scrutiny. One is children’s natural empathic development. Television can desensitise kids to the suffering of others, and they could irrationally act out their aggression within their social groups. In a paper written by Eugene V Beresin, M.D., The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions, he states, “They may come to see violence as a fact of life and, over time, lose their ability to empathise with both the victim and the victimiser.

Another critical issue is that children may become more fearful in their own communities and develop unrealistic ideas about how violent the world really is. A big culprit of this growing perception is the non-stop news media and its real-world violence. “The problem lies less in children’s imitation,” says Ferguson, “but more, perhaps, in difficulty processing news information and understanding that news media can make the world look scarier than it actually is.” He doesn’t recommend having the 24-hour news cycle running as the background to your home, “but taking them to see Batman v Superman…that is probably fine.” Indeed, good versus evil is a fundamental thread of human mythology. Share this idea with your children, and teach them its proper place in their own cultural milieu.

Good News! It’s Not All Bad
Television may enhance your kids’ lives. It exposes them to a myriad of new things, expanding their range of interests as they learn about science, music, art, and life in general. Indeed, for today’s’ teens, in particular, TV can expose the reality of human problems, such as the developing world. We want children to be happy and well-adjusted people, and exposing them to few stark realities before they leave home can be a sound and empowering practice.

Before you beat yourself up about how much you regulate your child’s TV habits or not, look with fresh eyes. If kids learn well, have strong friendships, and are in touch with you about their lives, an hour or two of screen time each day is okay. A key goal of parenting is to raise curious, fulfilled children, ready for the challenges of the world that await them. Make sure the television is a fun activity that can be used to enhance life, not be its focus. After all, experiential learning is the foundation of growth and maturity – child or adult, we must walk out our front door to grow.

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