There’s a lot of controversy over children and television viewing. The vast majority of studies show links between screen time and ADHD, higher BMI, poorer school performance, and decreased social skills. Most professionals seem to agree: Don’t let children younger than two watch any television, and only one to two hours of television for children older than two.
There is a part of me that agrees, but there is a much larger part of me that questions the results of these studies.
The majority of the studies look at screen time alone. Some look at screen time and content. One looked at background television and the possible effect on development. But there are very few that look at family interaction as well as screen time.
When a study points out that the vast majority of parents using ‘educational’ DVDs or programs do so with the intent to spend time away from the children, I question which is actually the cause of developmental concerns. Babies as young as three months are put in a swing or seat and stationed in front of the TV for half an hour or longer so mom can do the dishes or have a cup of coffee. As the children age, the amount of screen time increases so mom can have more time to herself. Personally I suspect that has more of an impact than actual television.
Babies need interaction. In order to learn language they need to be talked to – and listened to. In order to learn to stand and walk a baby needs a caregiver to hold him up and let him bounce, let him try walking. A baby spending time on the floor with nothing but toys typically won’t crawl as quickly as a baby on the floor with another human close by. Babies, humans in general, need interaction to survive.
It might be possible for some babies to reach developmental milestones despite being placed into a jumper for the majority of the day, despite never having someone try to talk WITH her, despite being placed in front of the television for entertainment, but I suspect those babies are very rare individuals.
In our home we don’t limit TV. Of course the majority of the time spent with the TV on is spent together. We talk about the shows, ask the girls what they thought happened, if they’ve had something similar happen to them. Some shows spark such a huge interest that the next several weeks are spent focusing on the topic and learning as much as possible.
Ella spent a huge portion of time digging up her dinosaur bones from the garden last spring. She then chiseled, washed, and brushed the chalk away until her bones were clean. Her interest in dinosaurs in waning now, but watching television brought the subject to life enough that she wanted to learn more. She wanted to be a paleontologist.
Right now our girls, Ella in particular, are spending large amounts of time in front of screens of one type or another. To some extent I feel guilty. I know less time would be spent in front of a device if I were able to participate in their interests more. But for now all I can offer are my own capabilities. The two are not the same. However, my guilt is overshadowed by watching my little girls blossom before me.
Even though we aren’t getting out much right now, we aren’t seeing other children, the girls are practicing social interactions. They watch shows and see how the characters act, what they say. Then while they play they use the same words, behaviours to try them out. Sometimes we react as expected, sometimes we pretend that we don’t want to share, or say hello etc. The girls take a concept from the show, they expand it, they learn from it. All the while we’re there beside them.
Today the girls watched an episode of “The Cat in The Hat Knows A Lot About That” about bees and honey. The information had been presented before, but the show brought it alive. Agatha (2.5) excitedly came up to me, “Mommy, bees make honey with their spit.” So tomorrow we’ll watch the same show again, and after we’ll pretend to be bees. We’ll build the comb, we’ll find our flowers, the girls will get their chance to spit to their hearts content – and after we’ll have some bread and honey.
If we wanted we could expand on the information. Youtube has videos of bees working, building, making that we could watch. Once the weather warms up the nature center has a beehive enclosed in plastiglas so it’s possible to see the bees working on the hive.
When spring arrives if the interest is still there we could plant different flowers and see which attracts bees more. Or go to the river valley and see what we find there.
I don’t believe the problem is television. I believe the problem is more the limitations parents set on television. It is so much more than a babysitter, it’s a stepping stone. Take what you see, what your children see and expand on it.
Your little boy loves “Thomas”? Go to a trail yard. A Rail museum. Build your own railroad in the backyard. Not a table top one, but give him a nice size hammer and some boards, then have something available for tracks. Let him build. Tell him about John Henry. See where that story takes you. You’d be surprised what the smallest children pick up on. Tell them the truth. What you don’t know, look up together.
Use your imagination, join your children in their interests and see how fast they blossom.