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Toddlers and Television: Not A Good Mix

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Among family members, friends and former patients I know, it is common practice for harried mothers to give themselves a break by putting their kids, ranging in age from earlier than twelve months to three-years-of age and up, in front of the television to keep them distracted. It is true that many people feel comfortable doing this because of the wide variety of educational programs available for toddlers, such as Sesame Street. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has announced that doing this is actually harmful to children.

The Academy states that, at best, children under two-years-of-age learn nothing from television. At worst, television causes a delay in language development and problems with focusing attention. These negative effects show up when kids under two are exposed to these programs even for a short amount of time, as little as under one hour per day. Studies show that these negative effects are worse when toddlers are allowed to watch more than two hours of television per day.

Researchers point out that they cannot be 100% certain that heavy television viewing alone causes this damage, as opposed to bad parenting. They state that putting kids two and younger in front of the television for hours really constitutes child neglect, and this can contribute to delayed language development just as much as watching TV does.

So, what is a harried and tired mother to do when she needs a break or has household chores to do? It is sugggested that putting toys, such as blocks, in front of the kids and giving them unstructured time to play keeps them busy. The point that experts make is that boredom helps kids learn to entertain themselves and provides them with opportunities to develop their imaginations.

More than one expert in child development has pointed out the fact that we just don’t give our kids enough unstructured down time to play and develop their imaginations. Passively watching television does not give youngsters the chance to play imaginary games. If you ever watch a two- year-old given the chance to play alone with a couple of toys, you will witness entire conversations and exciting situations unfold. You might not understand what is going on, but is impossible not to notice that the youngster is fully absorbed.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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