NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
TELEVISION’S IMPACT ON YOUNG CHILDREN
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.
Q. What are your opinions of how TV watching affects young children? I can control what shows they watch but I’m more concerned about TV’s impact on a child’s development.
A. TV content isn’t the only concern for parents. Too much TV is a major problem, too.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages TV for children under age 2. For children over 2, the recommendation is to limit “total media time” to 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day.
Studies have demonstrated a range of risks associated with TV. For example, excessive amounts of TV watching have been linked to restlessness and hyperactivity in preschool children, especially boys.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that TVs not be placed in children’s bedrooms. Both the number of hours of daily TV viewing and the presence of a TV in the child’s room are associated with a greater risk of obesity.
Before age 2 1/2, children learn little from TV. Its stimuli are overwhelming: too much noise, rapidly shifting visuals and the content is beyond small children’s comprehension.
Children may be able to tune out the barrage, but the energy would be better used for activities that actually help them learn – like reading or playing.
In many households, TVs are left on all day even when nobody is watching. Yet in the presence of “background TV,” young children have more difficulty paying attention and participating in interactive play.
Many small children are “parked” in front of the TV when their parents need to do something around the house. TV seems to have taken the place of extended family – of having grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings nearby who can lend a hand – but it is no substitute.
In any family, raising a child is a challenge. Still, when a parent must briefly resort to TV to keep a child occupied, I’d limit the amount as much possible and choose soothing, low-key, commercial-free content.
After age 2, I recommend restricting TV viewing to no more than one hour per day. I would always choose TV shows appropriate to your child’s age and temperament. When a child watches TV, parents should watch, too. You can talk over what you’ve seen.
Your questions will help your children learn to ask their own questions, think for themselves and begin to separate your family’s values from the ones on commercial TV that are meant to sell things. “Did you like that show? Why do you think that man was trying to hurt that lady? How did they make it look like that kid could fly? Do you think skateboards can suddenly appear under your feet when you open that can of soda?”
You can discuss the content with them in order to help them detoxify it and understand it. Such discussions will help children become media literate – an increasingly important skill.
Some parents feel they must expose their children to everything that other people’s children might see on TV. They fear that tuning out and unplugging might somehow deprive their children. Yet parents can rest assured that plenty of children turn out just fine with less TV – or none.
Sure, children may protest at first when the TV goes off. They may not tell you until they’re adults, but they’ll be grateful to see their parents behaving like parents and asserting control over their family’s values.
Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.
Dr. Brazelton heads the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is Director of Strategy, Planning and Program Development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.
Reprinted with permission from the authors.