I feel a bit squirmy writing this post; it’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long while, but have been too chicken to face it. I don’t even know why. As I wrote last week, the idea behind this blog is to provide information, and for people to take what they want and leave the rest. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty, but I do think there’s a big gap in awareness when it comes to the issue of TV and very young children, and I hope to address that. In a squirmy kind of way.
To lay it out plain: kids under two shouldn’t watch TV. Squillions of studies have shown there are no benefits to kids under two watching TV. More so, screen-time, which includes computers, games, ipads and DVDs, can have adverse effects on concentration, movement and eye development, lead to obesity and create a hyper-real sense of the world. In 2009, the Australian government released guidelines that made headlines around the world: “Australia says ban television for under-twos”. The report “Get Up and Grow”, aimed at tackling obesity, recommended that children under two have absolutely no TV time, while children two to five be limited to less than one hour per day of quality viewing. Click here to view the guidelines.
Considering that four-month-old babies here watch an average of 44 minutes of TV a day, it’s safe to say that the guidelines are a long-shot from reality. In fact, I know of very few parents who don’t let their baby or toddler watch some TV, even if it’s only “In The Night Garden”. Somehow, despite all the studies and the official recommendations (backed up by the American Academy of Pediatrics), there’s a general feeling that it’s actually okay for kids to watch TV; that the academics are wrong. And of course, there’s the rub – it’s easy to make recommendations like this when you’re looking at data and MMR scans, as opposed to looking at a tired, cranky child who wants your attention when you’re trying to make dinner. I completely understand why the TV is such a big part of children’s lives, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t agree that it should be, know what I mean?
A lot of parents, 50% in a study in the US, believed that TV was good for tots because they learned from it. Well, in October last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics basically came out and said there is no such thing as educational TV for kids under two. Once you get past 24 months, it’s a different story, but according to Time magazine: “Sesame Street has been shown to contribute to improved language and social skills in children older than 2. But play the same programming for younger kids…and they will actually have delayed language skills”. Read more here.
Somehow, we’ve made it to 23 months without the TV. Alfie has watched a couple of episodes of “Minuscule” with Daddy, and we all sat down together to watch “The Snowman” at Christmas. From what I’ve read online and what people have told me, the real challenge will arrive in three months, when I have a baby and a toddler to look after. Hopefully, the diversion tactics I’ve used so far (when I needed to make dinner) will continue to work. Are they “better” than TV? Well, it depends on how you look at it… pulling stuff out of cupboards, chasing the dog around the living room, pouring water all over the floor, playing with Daddy’s new laptop… The tactics I use to get 20 minutes to get something done tend to be messy and/or noisy and occasionally end up causing bruises (jumping on and off the couch). There have been times where I’ve looked at the TV and thought, “Maybe just this once.” Fortunately, the only thing on was “Ready, Steady, Cook” and no-one should ever have to watch that. Suck it to me, though, the one time I really needed Alfie to get absorbed in a screen was when we flew to Sydney last year. The kindly lady next to me turned her screen onto the kids’ channel, but Alfie ignored it completely and continued trying to crawl into her lap. “He doesn’t really watch TV,” I muttered, embarrassed. (On that note, I’ve had a mum from an older generation shriek, “Oh the poor thing!” when I said Alfie hadn’t ever seen Playschool.)
My plan when number two comes along is to continue to leave the TV unplugged during the day and to introduce a DVD whenever that hideous day comes that Alfie drops his day sleep. Maybe we’ll watch stuff together when the little one’s asleep, but I’m (optimistically) determined to give my second baby the same benefits Alfie has had (but that’s a whole other post!). Babies are often exposed to what’s known as “second-hand” TV, and while you may think they’re not playing attention to the TV in the background, research shows they look at the screen every 20 seconds.
So there you have it, my views on TV and the real reason Alfie doesn’t recognise Thomas the Tank Engine or know any Wiggles songs. I’d love to know your thoughts…
Picture by allman was here