How much TV time is advisable for a toddler & preschooler and why?
We live in a media-saturated world, where digital media is common and unavoidable as a cold. This includes TV, smartphones, internet, and other devices. Some shows are even targeted at children, now that the audience has been identified, and they can be educational. However this screen time needs to be moderated and limited, it is very important to teach your child to have a healthy relationship with media.
Most parents command their children as “Do as I say, not as I do” but children will always primarily do what they see, and many programs can teach them violent or antisocial behaviours.
They can even cause the development of debilitating fears of the world that the child doesn’t fully grasp yet. Most worryingly, attachment to media can cause a disconnect with parents, the TV can become a hurdle in your relationship and make it harder for the socialisation of a child.
There is also a strong connection between diminishing attention spans and digital media usage, toddlers that are still learning to focus their attention on something for prolonged periods are affected by watching TV (by 7 years of age).
This is because of the everchanging and entertaining nature of media, because of how fast-paced media is, their brains will also get accustomed to the speed. This translates into problems with paying attention, boredom, and perhaps need more thrill-seeking activities.
Parents often use a tablet or smartphone as a babysitter, to occupy the child with rhymes or cartoons, this is understandable. You need a break too, and media can be an easily digestible way of learning. But face to face interaction is vital, especially during their developmental years.
Infants especially may seem tranced by the colourful, moving images, but at that point, their brains are not developed enough to make semantic sense of the scene. It takes around 18 months for the brain to make sense of these symbols on a screen with the reality around.
Beyond that stage too, toddlers need to interact with people and objects around them that they can explore and experience. They build their world through these interactions and sensations, and limiting that to a 2D screen would not help them, as this does not teach them of the world around them. Real-world learning occurs when they interact with objects and people, and adopt the ways of the social world through imitation and understanding.
This does not mean that they should lead a Luddite life, without exposure to media. Children can learn a lot with TV and apps, provided the content is created with educative goals. These programs cater specifically to children, and in this day and age, youtube channels, apps, etc. are also being made for the same.
Parental supervision is supremely important, the internet is a vast web of anything and everything, and shaping their online experience is the parent’s responsibility. And regardless of content, a child’s electronic usage should be limited to an hour, up to the age of 5.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came up with recommended guidelines for screen time:
1. Children up to 18 months of age should preferably not have any screen time, except for video chatting and interactions with family and friends.
2. 18 months to 2 years old: short amounts of screen time with parental consent and under the supervision of a caregiver. Avoid solo media usage.
3. Preschoolers: Up to 1 hour per day of programs meant for the education of children that age, with a parent who can explain it to them.
4. 5 to 18 years old: Consistent limits on screen time of all media devices. They are in sire need for proper sleep and physical activity.
As your child grows older, you will have to decide the right amount of media exposure and what is deemed appropriate for them to watch and do. However, parents should be wary of certain behaviours that an excess of TV or uncensored content can be instilled in their children. It has been linked to poor academic performance, aggression, sleep troubles, and other behavioural problems.
Watching age-inappropriate content can depict and sensationalise risky behaviours like drinking alcohol, doing drugs, etc. as fun. Children cannot identify right or wrong and learning the wrong thing might normalise certain notions to them. Being exposed to noxious topics that they are not yet mature enough to understand can create confusion or maladaptive learning. For example, watching people smoking cigarettes in shows might make these behaviours seem acceptable and lead to problems later in life.
Obesity, a lifestyle disease, has also been linked with excessive screen time. The time children spend in front of a screen replaces their physically active period. They are complacent and inactive as they sit in one place for the duration of the show or game, as a couch potato. This will not only affect their body, but it will also have an adverse effect on their social skills. Replacing this time with outdoor games or activity would help them avoid this.
Children are also being constantly inundated by advertisements in this capitalistic world, the problem is that at that age, they do not understand the concept of commercialisation. Children of 6 years and younger do not understand the motive behind an ad, to them, it is a part of the show.
Often, even older children may need to be reminded of the purpose of their favourite character advertising. It would be impossible to attempt to protect your child from these promotional messages, but you can limit what they are exposed to and teach them how to react to it appropriately.
1. Children below the age of 2 years should not be exposed to screens and media.
2. Preschoolers can be permitted to watch high-quality educational shows with their caregiver.
3. Excess of media usage is linked to obesity, short attention spans, risky behaviours, etc.
4. These problems can be limited by allotting screen time and moderating their usage.
5. Commercialisation is not something children can understand and hence should not be left to their own devices, literally.