In a world of overworked parents and overstimulated kids, it’s easy to resort to using television as a way to entertain kids. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends that children under two see no tv and that older children be exposed to a maximum of 2-3 hours of television a day. While it can be difficult to pry a child away from television, it really is worth the effort, and you’ll be rewarded with a happier, healthier child, who is more likely to develop useful and stimulating interests outside of television. Here’s how television harms your child’s brain development and why television should be avoided:
Reading Comprehension and Short Term Memory
Reading comprehension relies on a good short term memory. Unfortunately, television can have dramatic negative effects on short term memory, as several recent studies have shown. In one study, researchers Zimmerman and Christakis found that, in children under three, every hour of television watched caused a larger drop in reading performance at ages six and seven. This makes sense when we consider the way television is processed. TV relies on constantly repeating messages to children so that they do not have to remember them. In doing this, a TV lowers the incentive for a child to remember short term facts and thus a child who is exposed to a lot of television has not had as much practice at short term comprehension and memory.
Dangerous Marketing Messages
Almost half of the time your child spends in front of the television will be spent watching commercials, which have no value to your child whatsoever. Not only do commercials create a child who will beg, whine, bribe, and plead for any and every toy; they also teach questionable values. Girls who watch too many commercials grow up believing there are certain things girls aren’t capable of doing. Boys who watch commercials grow to believe the only way to be a boy is to be violent and aggressive. Marketers are teaching your child more than just to want to buy stuff, and their messages should be limited if at all possible.
Less Family Time
Family time spent watching television is not real family time. Families who spend their time in front of the television engage with each other less and know less about one another. If your child is spending a lot of her free time watching television, she’s missing out on valuable opportunities to interact with friends and family. Not only does this mean that you’re engaging with her less; it also means she’s missing out on learning valuable relationship skills that will help her in adult life.
Children who watch too much television are less capable of entertaining themselves and have a lowered tolerance for boredom, which means as soon as the television goes off, the whining begins. By exposing your child to television from a young age, you set yourself up for hours of whining and a child who has a difficult time entertaining herself. Further, children with a lower tolerance for boredom are less likely to engage in challenging but rewarding activities like reading, writing, making things, and building things.
What About Educational Television?
The American Academy of Pediatrics’s position on television is the same whether the tv is educational or not, and studies have shown that, while a child might learn more problematic values from non-educational television, there is no benefit to young children of watching even educational television.
What About Background Television?
Some families keep the television on in the background for the noise and stimulation, and parents of very young babies often watch TV while playing with their babies. There is no conclusive evidence one way or the other about this kind of television watching. With background television, the primary risk is that it lowers the level of engagement you have while interacting with your child, so make sure that if you do choose to have the TV on in the background, your child is still getting your full attention.