There’s been talk of the benefits and dangers of children watching television virtually since the medium’s beginnings in the late 1940s. Parents wishing to allow their children to enjoy television’s virtually limitless power to educate and entertain just as often find themselves taken aback by mature themes and subject matter. For decades, public television and certain child-friendly cable networks offered safe harbor from conventional television programming, though in recent years the educational value of some of its programming has fallen under criticism, too. The accusations stem from a belief that so-called educational programming has compromised its standards for the sake of competing with mainstream television entertainment. If these programs become more commercial, the argument states, where can parents find trustworthy programming for their children?
The discussion regarding the quality of children’s television in many ways obscures the larger issues of how much time children should spend watching television and what kinds of television should be made available to them. Child development experts caution that smaller children (aged two and up) be allowed no more than two hours of television per day. Children younger than two years old, they say, should be allowed no television at all.
Some studies point to increased language development among children with access to television, however. The interaction between characters, these studies suggest, allow children a firmer grasp of the uses of language and an appreciation for how conversational skills develop and take shape.
Nevertheless, the dangers of too much television consumption – obesity from a weakened metabolism, lackluster reading and comprehension skills, and diminished motor reflexes would seem to outweigh the benefits. The individual parent should decide whats best for their child.
Parents wishing to avoid “television addiction” in their children should take steps to limit the child’s access to the family’s set early on, and maintain the restricted viewing with both consistency and self-discipline. Experts advise keeping the television not in the family’s main room but in an out-of-the-way part of the house, such as the basement rec room or upstairs guest bedroom. While this may put a hamper on parent’s accessibility to enjoy the programming, the time available for family bonding and interaction will grow proportionately.
Experts also caution parents to make their child’s television viewing specific to a certain program, and refrain from allowing the TV to run as “background noise” in the family room or during family time. Parents should also watch the programs with the children, to make sure they understand its content and to answer questions the children might have. Recording programs, so that parents can pause to discuss, is also a way to increase understanding.