Toddlers and TV: How much is too much?

Young children should not watch television. At all. It’s not called the idiot box for nothing. 


We don’t live in a vacuum and you can’t raise your children ignorant of TV. For one thing their classmates/daycare pals will think they’re odd. For another thing, I’m pretty sure it would be beyond most adults to go without television even if it was for the sake of their children.

So, realistic guidelines: children under two should not watch any television at all. Between two and five years it should be minimal, less than an hour a day and broken into 15-minute increments.  If your toddler does watch television you should be watching with them to help educate and bridge the gap in understanding. Explain what’s happening, find out what they understand about what they’re watching. And if it’s commercial television you need to explain that advertising is not part of the program and what advertising actually is, including what the advertiser’s motives are. According to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (Pediatrics) “Australia and New Zealand continue to have some of the highest rates of advertising to children in the world”. That’s a powerful force that needs to be countered by parents. Children have no resistance to advertising.

Anything less than these measures is risking your child’s brain development, their emtional intelligence, their intellect and their physical health.

Research indicates television can contribute to attention deficit disorders, childhood obesity and violence-related issues from a desensitivity to it, to openly aggressive behaviour. 

A 2004 article suggests researchers have found that too much TV can overstimulate young minds and permanently rewire the developing brain leading to increased incidences of attention deficit disorder.

Studies in the US and Europe have found that children who watch violence on TV, or as part of video games, are less likely to help someone in trouble, more likely to accept that violence is an unavoidable part of the world around them and feel some anxiety because of that.  A small percentage of children will become violent themselves.

Shockingly, research published by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (Pediatrics) reveals Australian children begin watching television regularly from about four months and at this age watch an average of 44 minutes of television a day.

Parents need to be accountable for their child’s development. Commonsense dictates, and many studies establish, that television does nothing to stimulate higher brain function such as critical, or even independent thinking. It’s a passive activity.

Until recently, that is. Programs such as Dora the Explorer are trying to patch that hole by trying to simulate two-way activity. (For those who haven’t seen Dora in action, she asks a question and then pauses for a couple of moments to allow the viewer time to answer). A study has rather ambiguously found that some children can be stimulated by this simulation. They’re now trying to figure out why some children respond and others don’t.

The simple matter is that educational programming, programs that have any merit whatsoever, are very, very rare on Australian television, so as to be almost non-existent. There is talk at the moment of creating a kids-only ABC television channel , however, critics argue that’s not going to achieve much except litter the airwaves with more inane rubbish. The reality is that good TV costs money to make and commercial stations won’t spend that kind of money and public broadcasters don’t have that kind of money.

When using television to entertain your child opt for DVDs rather than TV. Educational, meaningful programs that have some redeeming value (or perhaps, minimal negative impact) can be found on DVD in most supermarkets and have the added benefit of being commercial free. Watch one or two episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine or Bob The Builder and turn the TV off. Engage your child, play with them, connect. It is too easy to forget that we are the centre of their universe and all they want is our undivided attention.

Turn the TV off and take them for a walk around the block. Play totem tennis in the backyard. Establish a routine of physical activity that becomes a habit they maintain into adulthood.

Parenting is hard but rewarding. Don’t miss out on the good times because TV has become front and centre in your child’s life. Start creating good habits now so that you’ll reap the benefits later. 

Useful links:
Australian Children’s Television Foundation
Young Media Australia
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
When toddlers turn on the TV and actually learn:
Watching TV may hurt toddlers’ attention spans
How to manage your toddler’s TV

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