The average child spends 900 hours in school per year and around 1,023 hours in front of a television. Does your grandchild do this? It is a fact that most children plug into the world of television long before they even enter school and when they do, statistics show that 70% of child-care centers use television during a typical day.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children watch around 4 hours of television a day. However, the AAP guidelines state that children older than 2 should watch no more than one to two hours a day of quality programming. Further, children under age 2 should have no ‘screen time’ whatsoever (that means no TV, DVDs, computers or video games) at all. During the first 2 years, which is a critical time for brain development, television can really get in the way of exploring, learning and spending time interacting and playing with parents and others, which helps the young develop the skills they need to grow cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally.
While there are many entertaining and educational experiences for children to have on ‘screens’, it is important to keep in mind what children need at different ages for their healthy development. So, how much time is okay?
- Children under 2 years – very little time, preferably none.
- Preschoolers – an hour of programmes that are age-appropriate a day is plenty.
- Children 5 to 8 years – limit to an hour a day maximum.
- Children over 8 years – maximum an hour and a half to two hours a day is acceptable.
To follow these guidelines means that your children have both the time and the opportunity to build strong bonds with real and caring people, have time for active physical play and ‘hands-on’ activities of all kinds.
Therefore, plan what you will watch and limit your child to the amount watched each day. Decide together which programs will be watched and only have ‘the box’ on then, rather than just on all the time. This teaches children to think, to plan, to make choices and allows plenty of time for them to do other things important for their development.
Other issues to be aware of or implement include:
- Remember to lead by example – your child’s viewing habits may be copied from yours.
- Television viewing for a very young child should always take place in your company.
- Record programs so they can be played at a time that suits your family.
- Encourage children to talk about how they feel after watching a program.
- Play ‘spot the gimmicks and the tricks’ when watching televised commercials.
- Decide on bedtime based on your child’s age, and not on the time a certain programme ends.
- Children need to wind down between television and sleep, so turn the volume down or off before bedtime.
- Make television one of many activities your children do – so plan trips and outings, play-dates and activities that don’t involve ‘screens’. Fun arts and crafts such as coloring and drawing are always well received – especially if you join in – and especially if you choose coloring pages of a favourite character – so for example at sites like Disney Coloring Pages you’ll find the best Mickey Mouse coloring.
Television does have its advantages. It can be educational and entertaining. It can open up new worlds for children, giving them the opportunity to virtually travel the globe and learn about different cultures. However, many pitfalls also exist; many children are exposed to violence, advertising and adult material that is not age appropriate.
Just like maintaining a balanced diet or regular bedtime, establishing healthy television habits is one of the most important things you can do for your family.