Does TV rot your toddlers brain?

TV bad for your child's brain

Is TV bad for your child’s brain?

Melissa never seemed to need as much sleep as her peers. Just like her father, she had boundless amounts of energy and would easily be revived by a 10 minute cat nap. She could fare quite well on 10 hours sleep a day; even at aged 1, when others toddlers would sleep up to 15 hours. So for the most part, I could have 5 extra waking hours with my child than some other mums did.

Melissa was also an extremely active toddler; she cruised at 7 months, could climb a flight of stairs by 8 months and walked at 9.5 months, yet was too young at this time to understand that cat biscuits were for cats and plug sockets weren’t somewhere you put your fingers.

My husband worked terribly long hours and commuted 3 hours a day, and with family a bit far away to just drop by, I was on my own a lot and I struggled to get some ‘me time’.

TV became my babysitter when I was cooking, needed to shower, or just wanted 30 minutes peace. It led me to worry about the amount of screen time Melissa was getting and whether TV rots your toddlers brain?

Children and TV Statistics

On average, UK children spend over 4 hours a day in front of a screen (TV, DVD or games console), and a whopping 51% of American households, have the TV on “most” of the time.

For school age children the research is clear; an excessive amount of television watching is bad for brain development. It affects sleep, weight, school grades as well as behaviour, not to mention taking time away from healthy activities like playing outside with friends, participating in sports, eating dinner together as a family, reading or other skilful activities such as cooking, art or music.

However, very little research has been done on the impact of TV on pre-schoolers. With TV, video and DVD programs geared towards babies and toddlers flooding the market surely it’s time we took a closer look. I did my own research and found some surprising results.

Talking up a storm

Several studies have shown how toddlers’ language can in fact benefit from television. One found that babies and toddlers learned vocabulary, in particular shapes, colours, letters and numbers from watching Sesame Street. Dora the Explorer was also positively related to expressive language production and vocabulary, and daily viewing over 6 weeks resulted in 13 more vocabulary words on average at 30 months old.

Another study showed children aged 3 scored higher on school readiness, reading, number skills and vocabulary, if they were regular watchers of Sesame Street. These gains were even greater if caregivers had children participate in a 30 minute lesson following on from the program watched. For example, viewing a program on insects and then going to the park to find some ants and ladybirds enhanced the total learning experience.

Are early TV watchers high flyers?

When it came to the impact of early viewing on academic achievement at school, research is also encouraging. High school students (particularly boys) who had watched Sesame Street as pre-schoolers achieved better grades in English, Maths, and Science in Junior and Senior school. Research revealed they read more often, had greater academic self-esteem, and valued academic performance more highly. To test this hypothesis, researchers in a study called Does television rot your brain?’ looked back at academic achievement in the pre television 1940’s and found that pre-schoolers who watched television preformed better in reading and general knowledge.

Does TV Steal the imagination?

Blueberry muffinsTelevision is often criticised for squashing a child’s imagination and making them lazy. Yet research demonstrates that younger children use their experience of television in play, imitating Tree Fu Tom’s magical moves or playing Princesses and Pirates for example. In this way, as long as the content is good, television stimulates make-believe and acts as an important outlet to express feelings and fantasies.

Melissa and I often get baking after an episode of Cbeebies I Can Cook. Mister Maker is an excellent platform for getting the craft box out and building a rocket out of loo roll. And I’ll never forget the day Melissa pointed at a word in a book we were reading and said C A T; it must’ve been the episodes of Alphablocks she loves to watch.

Children who flick through a picture book, watch a play, or listen to a story on tape also consume fantasies produced by others, but nobody has ever argued that books or theatre hinder a child’s imaginative play. With this in mind, there’s little reason to assume that TV, if used appropriately, does either.

My experience

In our house we have a few rules: Melissa can watch half an hour of TV whilst I’m getting ready in the morning, then it’s switched off for an activity. There’s no telly in the evenings as I find it over excites her brain, which results in meltdown at bedtime as well as frequent nightmares. If it’s a rainy day, we may make popcorn and watch a movie together snuggled under a blanket. During weekend mornings, TV is a treat – mainly in the hope that my husband and I get an extra hour in bed (although this hasn’t quite worked yet!).

At the end of the day, when it comes to TV, parents need to use their common sense. If a screen takes priority over doing activities then a child will become lazy and get used to being entertained in that way. However, as an educational tool, TV’s and computers can stimulate curiosity, creativity and imagination, but only if used appropriately. Let’s face it, in an age where a knowledge of technology is essential, I think it an advantage that Melissa knows how to work my iphone better than I do!

It’s all about balance!

Ask yourself; have I had a meaningful interaction with my child today? If the answer is YES and they’re driving your round the bend, then maybe 30 minutes of screen time’s good for everyone’s sanity! But if the answer’s NO then remember, spending excessive hours in front of the TV leaves less time for other social or intellectual activities. In the long term this could make a child less imaginative and creative than a child whose TV viewing hours are carefully regulated.

Here’s how to help your toddler get the most out of TV:

Missy and headphones christmas 20101) Choose quality content – one that offers possibilities for interaction and new experiences.
2) Makes sure TV is age appropriate as this is when learning is optimal.
3) Follow up a viewing with a related activity or discussion to reinforce learning.
4) Keep viewing times short (max 30 minutes at a time).
5) Know what your child is watching – even Disney can be scary for a 2 year old.
5) Don’t leave the TV on in the background.
6) Most importantly, keep TV out of your child’s bedroom!!

Again another controversial subject. Does TV rot your toddler’s brain? I’d love to hear your views so please feel free to leave comments below. Thanks for all your comments on Facebook; I’m glad to hear this article made mum’s feel less guilty. If you found this post interesting you may like my article on Co-sleeping habits around the world. Please click here to read it.

6 thoughts on “Does TV rot your toddlers brain?

  1. Great post, I agree that it’s all about striking the balance. When it comes to technology I have the personal belief that it can be extrememly beneficial if we just know how to use it properly. I like the idea of being able to follow up what has been watched and learnt with an activity to help develop the knowledge. Balance is definitely key!

  2. As with all things parenting it’s easy to over think but, as you say, it’s just about common sense and balance! My 2yo likes to make it very clear to people that he did not learn shapes and adding up from us, but from his favourite programme – Team Umizoomi. If you haven’t seen it, they fix things using ‘Mighty Maths Powers’ (it’s awful – I hate it!). Last week my bike broke and he told me he could fix it using shapes. Definitely breeding confidence!

    • No, I haven’t seen it but will check it out. It’s funny how all the programmes parents find annoying the children seem to love. Thanks for your comment. There’s something to be learned from every experience (even TV) if its gone about the right way.

  3. I don’t think TV destroys imagination, but I think spending a lot of time in front of TV is not healthy. For me, a healthy childhood is letting the kid play in a garden, with their friends, use their imagination to different activities and stuff, instead of staying the whole day in front a tv or a computer screen. I agree with you, i’ts about balance 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes Indeed! Variety is the key to the kinds of entertainment your child has. It’s also important that they learn to entertain themselves through imaginative play.

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