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Television and your child

Toddlers and even babies grow up watching television and VCD(s) as a daily routine. It is considered the norm today. Though some amount of TV viewing is harmless and in some instances even inevitable, too much of TV exposure can have negative implications.

Why some kids are so hooked on to TV?

• Many parents rely on this medium because it is convenient, accessible, free, and serves to keep your child distracted for long periods while you have the leeway to do other stuffs. Knowing the appeal TV holds for children, many parents allow their child to tune in to their favorite program or video for various reasons: as a reward for good behavior, break time, or to relax after a school day. A young baby can stay mesmerized by watching moving colorful lights and sounds although comprehension is zilch right now. Conversely, a toddler or a preschooler is more discriminating and will likely have particular preferences, and do not mind watching the same program again and again. So when parents want to finish their chores or tasks, television becomes the efficient 'child-minder'.

• Many parents feel that TV cannot be all that bad – programs designed these days does offer some educational value and hence some benefit is provided after all. There are programs that focus on letters or numbers or have some other educational content so children should watch such videos and programs. The pressure becomes especially strong when other peoples kids are TV watchers.

• Finally, parents feel that if their preschool children do not get enough exposure to mainstream TV, then they will experience social problems and feel excluded. An example will be when children talk about their favorite TV characters or games and a child not familiar with the characters stays isolated from the exchange. Further, most programs often feature merchandise tie-ins, such as games, toys and gears. Hence parents feel compelled to join in the crowd and make TV watching a feature of their children's daily schedule.

The long-term consequences

Obesity – Children who watch a lot of TV end up as obese kids; it is an intellectually and physically passive activity. Fewer calories are burnt when watching TV versus playing with blocks or cycling. The other reason is it promotes poor eating habits. This is partly because snacking and TV viewing go hand in hand in many households. Another reason largely hinges on TV advertisements; food and toys commercials make up majority of children's advertisements which don't exactly promote good foods like fruits but feature high sugar cereals and fast foods. Experts suggest that junk-food ads along with too much sitting have a part to play in increasing childhood weight issues.

Less time for other activities – Children need to use their imaginations to learn to draw, build, question, be physically active and everything else. Television takes away valuable time and doesn't provide the avenue for the child to learn such life skills. Television viewing is habit-forming; children who watch a lot of TV in their early years end up doing the same in their adolescence.

Shortens attention span – Watching television and videos appeal to kids because it requires less concentration than say, reading or playing puzzles. Researchers feel that young minds which are exposed to 2-3 hours a day of TV face attention problems known as attention deficit disorder, although this finding is not conclusive.

Stalls intellectual growth – Children may learn the alphabets or numbers from watching educational programs but they may not understand in essence what a letter or number is. Active TV watchers fail to interact with their environment, which provides them with active learning opportunities versus the passive experiences derived from TV viewing. Watching TV is a one way street – there is no opportunity for the child to ask questions and hear answers, and therefore learn.

In Hindsight..

• Studies indicate that until the age of three, children only pay real attention to programs that they can understand. If portions are not understandable, the child loses interest until she hears something interesting and familiar again.

• Research shows that 14 month old babies are able to remember images from the TV for a day or more, though they cannot describe them properly.

• Research show that 2 year olds are attracted to features of television such as animation, fast music, sound effects, puppets and repetition, just to name a few.

• It has been observed that most children do other things when watching TV, like singing, playing and jumping around.

• It has also been observed that television can model positive social behavior like sharing. It is therefore important to expose your child to the right kind of programs such as Sesame Street and Barney to name a few.

Your actions

• The approach to media exposure should be as little and as late as possible. However judicious viewing does offer advantages as a teaching tool. Around 30 minutes of TV a day for a child of 2 or 3 is enough. Long period of TV causes your child to become restless later.

• It is important to remember that age-appropriate programs are not interactive enough and may not be at the right pace for your child thereby causing confusion. Watch with your child whenever possible and then talk about the program afterwards.

• Having an adult reinforce is one good way to increase a child's comprehension of TV messages. As a parent you can comment on the major actions and themes and ask your child questions about what you are viewing together.

• You can also reinforce what your child sees on TV with books on the same topic. For example, if your toddler watches a segment of Barney that deals with weather, read a book about weather.

• There is nothing wrong to allow your child to watch a CD now and then while you go about with your work. Video is a better alternative to TV because it allows you more control. With a library stock of tapes or discs of the right kind for your child, there will always be something worthy to watch.

• It makes sense to vet very carefully what your child watches since there is evidence suggesting that scary programs are linked with nightmares.

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Disclaimer: Information contained on this Web site is intended solely to make available general summarized information to the public. It should not be substituted for medical advice. It is your responsibility to consult with your pediatrician and/or health care provider before acting on any advice on this web site. While OEM endeavors to provide up-to-date and accurate information, it is not liable for any advice whatsoever rendered nor is it liable for the completeness or timeliness of any information on this site.
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