Without a doubt, TV is well ingrained in our society, so much more than when we were children. There are so many channels to watch and most go 24 hours a day and there seems to be an ongoing debate about how much and what age for children. Does it have a place in their world? Do they learn from it? Is it educational or just entertaining? These are the questions parents find themselves grappling with.
It certainly can be of enormous value to children at certain stages of development and yes it helps them to learn, shows them many parts of the world that they would otherwise not see. It can also be wonderfully entertaining, how it can also inhibit development when used in the very early months and years.
Babies have an instinctual desire to learn to talk and interact. Over the first months and years there is a huge amount of learning to be done by simply interacting with people and exploring the world around them. The learning that happens in the first years is amazing to watch and can be damaged by watching tv. So under the age of 1 year, no matter how tempting it is to put the tv on and to entertain your baby or stop them from crying resist this temptation. No doubt, the screen is bright and has constant flickering colours and some babies are attracted to the screen, it isn’t doing them any favours or of value in learning at this young age.
At what age can you use the TV? With out a doubt there is so many programs and videos aimed at young children, these can be fun from 1 year onwards however it is very, very important they are used in the right way. This means sitting down with your toddler and watching the show together. You then need to make it interactive – so chat, talk about what is happening on the show, make comments, join in and do the actions to rhymes and songs. Play School is still one of the best and you can then take it a step further and make something from the show or sing the songs. Make sure that what you are watching actually relates to real life and is factual – ie. fairies, fantasy, Thomas the tank engine, Pingu are aimed at much older children. They need experience of their world first to know that they are fantasies. Without this, it is just confusing to babies and toddlers.
Also don’t be fooled into thinking they will learn words and language from TV as they won’t. A number of studies have been done to prove this, an experiment with Dutch children watching German TV for long periods of time, learnt no German words at all.(1) Hearing children of deaf parents learn no language from television.(2) Language is learned by interaction, pure and simple.
You may need a break and the tv can give you this but remember that is all it is. The benefit at this age is to you only. Be sure to limit it to 30 mins only a day for a 1 – 2 year old.
(1) J. Rust, Wechsler Objective Language Dimensions (The Psychological Corporation Harcourt Brace & Co, 1996)
(2) J. Rust, S. Golombok & G. Trickey Wechsler Objective Reading Dimensions (Sidcup, Kent, The Psychological Corporation, 1992)
(3) BabyTalk Maximise your child’s potential in just 30 minutes a day Dr Sally Ward