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A lot of parents choose to let their kids watch TV from a very early age and in many families babies and toddlers spend several hours a day in front of the TV. This habit has become so widely spread that it even seems to be a normal way of parenting. Letting a small child watch TV seems a perfect solution for allowing the parents to have more time for other things they need to manage and the screen can become quickly a “reliable” babysitter. This is why toddlers and preschoolers in the US watch an average of 32 hours of TV every week, much more than they should!
This article is not meant to judge parents in any way, it’s just an invitation to see things from a different perspective. Letting a small child watch TV may seem beneficial for many parents, but the truth is that studies revealed a totally different reality.
I just want to invite you to read some of the results of the studies made in the last years and to consider the negative effects that the TV has on little children. I truly believe that finding out more about these studies could make you think twice about the time that your kids spend in front of the TV every day. For me, this information was really revealing and I hope it would be helpful for you too!
The negative effects of letting small children watch TV
Research has shown that children under the age of 2 (even 3 in some studies) should not watch TV at all because it doesn’t bring them any benefits and instead it’s really interfering with their brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under age 2 should not watch any TV and that kids over age 2 should be limited to an hour or at most two hours a day but only watching quality and age-appropriate programs.
These are the negative effects that TV has on small children:
– TV changes the way how the brain develops and can cause a harm that will impact the whole life of the children. You can find further on in this article a video of a TED talk where a doctor explained this in detail.
– TV shortens a child’s attention span and it makes learning more difficult. This effect may not be visible immediately, but studies show that kids who watched TV when they were 2 years old are significantly more likely to have learning issues at the age of 7.
– TV overstimulates the children and makes them develop a hyperactivity that affects their life. They are used with fast moving images and loud sounds and they don’t find much interest in other activities that are quieter and less engaging. (the more TV a child watches the more likely he is to develop ADD and ADHD symptoms)
– TV can cause more aggression in young children, especially if they are watching inappropriate programs. (The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry can cause kids to imitate the violence they see on TV and to accept violence as a way to solve problems)
– TV offers a passive viewing perspective that bypasses the need for imagination and makes the children less creative (they don’t need to imagine anything, the content is ready and “served” on the screen)
– TV becomes addictive very quickly and the fact that a child watches TV at an early age sets up a habit he will likely follow for his entire life.
In the last years, many “educational programs” for young children appeared on TV and they were promoted as a very beneficial for kids, but studies showed that kids under 2 do not benefit from them. They even have the opposite effect and cause negative effects on brain development, so they are not really an alternative. Children are programmed to learn from interacting with other people and not from this kind of video entertainment.
A TED talk about what happens when small children watch TV
As I mentioned earlier in this post, the TV interferes with children’s normal brain development. There are several studies that show this negative impact, but I think that a short video is more explicative than a lot of figures and graphics, so I would like to invite you to watch a 16-minute TEDx talk on this subject.
The TED talk is held by Dimitri Christakis – the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. He is also a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington. In the past years, he has investigated how early experiences affect children and had tried to teach parents how to improve the early learning environments they offer to their kids. He studied the way the TV impacts children and he spoke about a part of his research in this TEDx talk.
My favorite phrase from the speech is a wonderful advice about the way we should approach early childhood: Change the beginning and you can change the whole story! I hope that all this information will be useful for you and it will help you make the best decision about letting your children watch TV! A change now could mean a lot for your child’s future!