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Toddlers vs. TV: Less is best, but not necessarily realistic

The temptation to interact with screens around the home is inescapable. They are everywhere; in our kitchens, our living rooms, our playrooms and even in our bathrooms and beds. With the convenience of digital streaming programs like Netflix and You Tube and the portability and accessibility of iPads, Smart phones and Smart TVs, we are constantly inundated with images, sounds and a barrage of multimedia distractions.

Forget binge eating. Binge watching is the new disorder of 2016:

binge watch·ing

noun

the practice of watching multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.

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Could our kids be victims of binge watching? The average American child watches more than four hours of TV a day, despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that kids age two and older watch no more than one to two hours daily. For kids under two? The AAP, along with the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends watching nothing at all.

Zip, zero, zilch.

Easier said than done right? For parents, screen time is often a welcome distraction, allowing us to get things done that we would otherwise be unable to do with small children around. Heck, it is sometimes just a much needed break! I think we can all admit to using a TV or iPad as a “temporary babysitter” while making dinner, cleaning or catching up on e-mails.

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The AAP also reports that children under the age of two gain no intellectual benefit from watching TV, and that watching too much can actually delay language development and cause attention-related problems.

I admit, I was a sucker for those Baby Einstein DVDs. A huge classical music fan, I thought it wouldn’t hurt for my daughter to sit in her bouncy chair for twenty minutes and watch some puppets dance across the screen to Beethoven’s 5th symphony. However, a research team at the University of Washington found that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new words than babies who never watched the videos at all.

Cue the mommy guilt.

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A piece in Scientific American, however, shed a glimmer of hope for the doomed television. It revealed how some studies have shown that certain educational TV programs, such as Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues , can actually improve vocabulary in older kids. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t apply to the under two crowd.

With all this rigorous research and finger wagging at parents, how could we possibly allow our children to be “dumbed-down” by the negative effects of TV and screen time?

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that playing at the park is more beneficial for a child’s health and development than being sedentary and watching TV. But for some parents, going to the park just isn’t a possibility all the time. There are so many complex factors that govern our lives and limit our abilities as parents that sometimes we just have to “make do”. Whether its work, accessibility, health issues, or other demands, the ever-increasing expectations placed on parents can be overwhelming and sometimes unrealistic. Perhaps when it comes to screen time and our kids, allowing for a little leeway wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

While I worry that watching too much TV will lower my daughter’s creative thinking ability, I know that my willingness to whole heartedly engage and play with her for quality periods of time throughout the day will hopefully cancel out any negative effects that screen exposure may cause. Parents today are more engaged than ever with their kids, especially when compared with older generations.

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My best advice for you? Use your common sense. Although less is best when it comes to screen time, sometimes it is unavoidable. Is watching an hour or two of TV a day going to intellectually damage your kids? Most likely not. Watching five to six hours a day? Maybe. Just use your best judgment and do what you need to do to survive. At the end of the day, even a little Netflix can go a long way 🙂

Here are some useful tips for surviving screen time in your home!

Pragma Mamma’s Screen Time Guidelines:

  • Quality over quantityRather than allowing your child to just sit and watch whatever is on, carefully select a personalized, age appropriate program. Choose shows that are engaging, stimulating and educational (if accessible)
  • Time is of the essence – Set time limits and stick to them. Use a timer and manage your kids’ expectations of what they are watching and how long for. I recommend avoiding full length movies until your child can actually comprehend what is going on in them (plus you avoid the Disney machine altogether!)
  • TV white noiseTry and avoid having the TV on all the time. It shouldn’t be used as “background noise” if possible. Instead, put on some appropriate music and allow kids to fully engage and concentrate on a specific activity, whether you are involved or not. Allowing our kids to focus on imaginative play without distraction is crucial for their creative development
  • Make it a family eventIf you can, sit and enjoy some screen time with your kids. Engage with them, ask questions and develop their critical thinking skills. Just put your feet up and enjoy time with them while you can (heck, we all need a break!)

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34 thoughts on “Toddlers vs. TV: Less is best, but not necessarily realistic

  1. Those are great thoughts!
    My husband and I have chosen to not even own a TV (*gasp!*) and I am so glad for our daughter’s sake (and my own! Gosh…I find myself SO busy, I do t even know when I’d have time to watch TV…but I know if I had it, I would). She has become a very clever and social 2 1/2 year old…always wanting to do what I’m doing, and learn new things, and play…I just get so much delight from watching her, that I can’t imagine just sedating her with TV.
    And she has learned that there are times when she has to play by herself, and that it’s OK… And still fun!

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  2. My husband and I both work from home and have our 2 youngest at home with us. I was feeling so guilty about how much television they were watching that I’ve started waking up at 530am do get work done so that I can take 3 hours off during the day and do an art project, take them to the park, walk them around Target with an organic chocolate milk 🙂 It’s a nice hybrid now of the “regular” Mommy guilt and those supermom moments. Great post!

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  3. I say this not being a mum, just having ideals for when I am one, I think I would try and be balanced. There are many good “games” that help the development on iPads etc, but finding the balance is tight and it’s no substitute for playing outside and interacting with people. This is a good balanced article and a lovely read, it’s good advice 🙂

    Meech

    http://Www.purplepotatoes.co.uk

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  4. My kid watches one episode of a show for about five minutes then wants to go back to playing. She didn’t watch TV for the first year and a half of her life so I think that helped.

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  5. I loved your thoughts on this subject. When I am working on my blog, I feel extremely guilty that my kids are watching tv sometimes. However, my daughter happens to have some of the most expansive language of any 3 year old I know and my son is pretty darn great for a 2 year old too. I must not be letting them watch too much. Lol.

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  6. I love this post! You spoke so many truths! I do not have a TV (by choice), but I use my laptop to play French nursery rhymes to my little one, and she loves them (and the distraction aspect of it can be so handy!). I chose those songs to help her ears get used to French words in the long run. Hopefully it will work, only time will tell. We limit this to a maximum of 1 hr per day.

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  7. I agree! I am a HUGE proponent to the less screen time the better but sometimes it happens. It really only happens on the weekend at our house (son is 19-months) on a sat or sun for some curious george or if he’s sick.
    I love the tip about not having it on as background noise. This is something that as adults we can more easily tune out but our children’s brains are not as capable. The constant screen time can be distracting to the task at hand (like you said) and they may not learn as much as they would if the tv was off in the background.

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  8. This is a great post. We own TV’s but I personally do not watch it. Stopped couple of years ago when all channels were consumed with reality tv. My kids watch Nick Jr, Disney and discovery channel. On weeknights they can only have an hour but after their homework is done and they had helped me like setting up the dinner table and cleaning post dinner. They also help me pack their lunch every night. This is how we spend family time together, learn about importance of cooking and eating well and discuss our day and upcoming weekend plans. On the weekends they can watch as much as they want if they have time to squeeze it in because we always have a lot going on. I can not stand when I hear people say “they don’t have time” for certain things, but like you said they have time for binging on TV…

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    1. Some great ideas here, thanks for sharing! I am going to steal the one where you have your kids kids prepare lunches – LOVE IT! Once mine are old enough, I hope to get them involved too. Family time is most important 🙂

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  9. I love the views you shared here. I share in your “mom guilt” of the television and iPad. Realizing we usually just have the tv on while they aren’t even watching it, I’ve started to put on the Pandora toddler channel. It creates the background noise we’re use to without getting sucked into a tv show. Music builds brain cells right?

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  10. I got my son talking using TV. HAHA I could not get him to say a word and a week after I started letting him watch TV he started talking. I had taken a few child development classes so I knew some good could come from TV.

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      1. We as parents say the same things over and over TV or even getting children around other children (often) brings new words to the table. My son did not really watch TV so It was a last effort. He was a delayed talker he said his first words at 17 months. His doctor wanted him in speech therapy if he did not start talking before his 18 month check up.

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  11. We don’t have a TV but very rarely I will let my 3 year old watch something (he loves Mr. Rogers and This Old House) on the computer. For him screentime seems to equal tantrum time so I’m all about minimizing it as a crutch.

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  12. I was just talking to my husband about this! My 1 year old doesn’t really care about TV. However, my 2 year old has a few shows she watches regularly and it really calms her down when needed. Everything in moderation.

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  13. Interesting to read someone else’s views on this. When my girls were younger (they are now 6 an 8), I used to be racked with guilt every time I thought they had been watching to much tv (as you said it can be very convenient sometimes) and I would always try to scale it back.

    In truth I don’t think it has done them any harm. My partner is Dutch and I am English so we tended to use it as a tool to fill the language gaps (we lived in England until my eldest was nearly 4, now we live in the Nederlands).

    Now the girls are a bit older it has sort of balanced itself out, they do so many activities and have so many play dates it sort of regulates itself. A welcome opportunity to relax for a little while.

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