To Watch or Not to Watch: Television for Children

By Jamilah Kolocotronis
Educationalist, Freelance writer

The debate about the benefits and disadvantages of TV has been around for almost as long
a child watching TV

A tired mother plops her two-year-old child in front of the television so she can have a few minutes of rest. The child watches intently as puppets entertain with songs and simple dialogue. The mother closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, happy to be momentarily free of the responsibilities of motherhood.

Conventional wisdom would say that what this mother is doing is wrong. She should not use the television to babysit her child, and doing so on a regular basis could stunt the child's intellectual growth. For years, mothers have been made to feel guilty for using the television as a temporary babysitter. According to some sources, however, sometimes conventional wisdom could be wrong.

Finding Stimulation

watching visual media such as TV and videos is desirable, because of the multiple avenues for sensory stimulation.

Anthropologist Desmond Morris contends that watching a video or TV show is not only good for the child, but may actually be better than reading a book. "Reading to your child from a book only gives verbal input,” he says. “If it has a good script, musical input and uses creative visuals, a good feature film provides three media for imagery. Films can be better than books. It's simply wrong to claim otherwise." " (Hill)

Other experts, such as psychologist Aric Sigman, have argued against this claim. Sigman states, "A child's brain must be challenged to paint pictures with sound through listening to stories, imagine things with little help and just a few oblique subtle clues." (Hill)

But Morris is not alone in his support of the educational benefits of TV and videos for young children. Predictably, PBS supports limited viewing for children, stating on the Parents page of their website that "screen time for preschoolers is like chocolate — it's a delicious pleasure in small portions, but consuming too much can lead to a lifetime of bad habit." The pbs.org website offers nine guidelines for choosing appropriate programs. These guidelines include "constructive ways to resolve conflict," "positive social models," and "lessons that foster a love of learning."

Others also tout the benefits of watching TV. In her article "Must-See TV for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners," Danielle Wood wrote, "Good news: with more and more quality television available, you don't need to feel guilty about letting kids indulge every now and then." An early childhood educator for more than 20 years — who wishes to be referred to as Diane Kagrees — stated, "I found that in moderation, it was a great tool that you could build upon in helping your child learn. The key is the amount of interaction between you and your child and their TV watching."

According to these sources, watching visual media such as TV and videos is desirable, because of the multiple avenues for sensory stimulation. Visual media can help the child learn positive lessons. The increasing amount of quality visual media makes it a more appealing option for parents and other caregivers. And the benefit is increased when the adult and child interact while watching.

There are still some important concerns. As stated at limitv.org, "The waking hours babies spend in front of a TV rob them of the time for parent-child interaction and their own playtime — two activities crucial to the development of intelligence and imagination." If the child spends too much time in front of the TV, he or she can lose the opportunity to learn through interaction with loving adults, an opportunity that cannot be recaptured in later years. Because of this concern, limitv.org recommends that children do not watch TV at all until age five.

This site is not the only voice against TV for young children. In an article appearing in the Washington Times, Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, takes direct aim at the most popular children's TV show when he states, "The brain is just not ready for something like 'Sesame Street' until a child is at least 3 years old." Rich says parents encourage their young children to watch television because it "keeps their kid happy, in control, and quiet," adding, "But so would heroin — and you'd never give your kid heroin."

Clear Priorities

TV is a tool that can be used for good or bad. It is up to parents to decide what role the TV will have in their home

Is it true that watching TV helps the child develop and learn? Or does watching TV disrupt the growth process during a critical period in a child's life?

With all of these varied opinions, how can a parent decide?

Each family must develop its own approach to TV watching. However, it may be helpful to follow these general guidelines:

  1. Do not make the television the center of family life. Create activities in other areas of the home with the TV turned off.
  2. If you do want your child to watch certain TV programs, watch with him or her and interact during the program.
  3. Keep your viewing limited to specific programs. Do not leave the TV on for hours at a time.
  4. Do not place a television set in the child's room. This applies not only to young children but to older children as well, and even teens. Make watching TV a family event rather than a solitary activity.
  5. Never let television watching take precedence over worship. Turn off the TV when it is time to pray, and do not turn it on immediately after the prayer. Read the Qur'an or play recordings of Qur'anic recitation. Even a young child can start to understand that knowing and practicing Islam is more important than any type of entertainment.

The television set first became an integral part of family life during the 1950s, and the debate about the benefits and disadvantages of TV has been around for almost as long. As with anything else, TV is a tool, an instrument that can be used for good or bad. It is up to parents to decide what role the TV will have in their home and how soon the child will be introduced to this particular piece of furniture. As long as parents have clear priorities, putting faith and family ahead of other distractions, there should be no problem.


Cited Works

1 Oct. 2010. Accessed 22 Oct. 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/oct/01/desmond-morris-tv-books-toddlers

. 15 Nov. 2009. Accessed 22 Oct. 2010. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/15/preschoolers-pacified-television-programming/?page=2

Accessed 22 Oct. 2010. http://www.limitv.org/preschool.htm

Accessed 22 Oct. 2010. http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/tvviewersguide-preschool.html

Wood, Danielle. "Must-See TV for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners."  Education.com. Accessed 22 Oct. 2010. http://www.education.com/magazine/article/mustseetv_preschool_kindergarten/


Related Links:
Too Much TV and Too Little Intelligence
Unhappy People Watch More TV: Study
Watching TV: Not Permissible?

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