Kids Watching TV: Is There An Impact?

Does media really have an impact on young children? If so, what are the ramifications?

toddlers and tv

Ever use the TV as a babysitter? I know I do. Don’t feel guilty about it, we all do it, but…there are some important tid-bits to be aware of before allowing your child to watch an endless amount of TV in a day. So, are there are ramifications to allowing your child watch TV? What are the guidelines? Do children process TV images at different ages? These are some of the questions that I tackle in this article. It is so important that we have our facts straight and understand the developing mind.

Developing Mind and TV

As we know, children learn by imitating, observing and doing. They learn by repeating and mirroring what they see. Therefore, what children are surrounded with has an impact on their development. There have been numerous studies conducted within the last several years from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Federal Bureau of investigation, FCC and the Surgeon General, to name a few; all reporting on the contribution of violence in media and aggressive behavior in children. In early child development, children younger than 8 years old cannot distinguish between what is real and what is fake. Their brains are unable to process that the scary or violent image they are viewing stops and ends in that picture and does not exist in real life. To a young mind, there is no clear division between fantasy and reality. This makes young children especially susceptible to “aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.” 

How Do We Handle This?

Pay attention to what your child is watching. Eliminate TVs in your child’s room and how much screen time they are getting. Use a V-Chip to help block certain programs and certain ratings. Do not go by TV ratings alone. Most children’s programs are violent; in fact, many kids shows have more violent images per minute than programs with adult ratings. Watch a new show or movie with your child to help guide and explain content. How adults react and guide content in programs can impact how your child processes the information.  For Example, if there is scary or violent scene in a program, explaining what your child is seeing and talking to them about it can help them make more sense of what they are being exposed to. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under two should not be exposed to screen time. There have now been 7 studies published documenting a possible delay in language and exposed screen time. For children over two, 1-2 hours is the max. Look, I know it’s hard! My child stopped napping at two while I was very pregnant with my son. I looked forward to her shows as my break. It kept my sanity and made me a better parent. Do your best. It was helpful for me to create a loose schedule of activities throughout the day. I also noticed that if I left the TV shows toward the end of the day, I could get some much-needed rest and use some of that quiet time to prep dinner, whine-free. I also noticed that if she started the day with shows, it was harder for her to become engaged in activities on her own, once the show was over. She was used to staring at something and being entertained, so once it stopped, she looked for someone to provide her with the next entertainment i.e. “me.” Always give your child clear expectations of how long they get to view the program and what they will do after. Setting an alarm can be great for them. You can clearly lay out, “when this show is over we will turn it off and build with blocks.” Or, “when the timer goes off, we will turn off the show and go outside.”  It is helpful to let them be a part of the process. “the timer has gone off, would you like to turn off the show, or would you like me?” Below is a list of some great show options for young children. What show is a favorite in your house?

Great list of Educational shows:
My current personal favorites: Earth to Luna and The Magic School Bus
My current personal favorites: Sesame Street, Doc McStuffins, The Wiggles and Emma
PBS Kids Is also fantastic! We love Daniel Tiger and Wild Kratts

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Pediatrics, November 2009, Volume 124/Issue 5 The American Academy of Pediatrics
“Taking Back Childhood” Nancy Carlson-Paige, Ed.D