Did you know children from age 2-5 clock in around 32 hours of television a week! And babies even younger, who shouldn’t be getting any screen time, are watching it during this crucial time of development and interaction with family and friends.
For the first two years of my daughter’s life, we decided, after researching, that we were going to keep the TV off when she was around. My husband and I love movies, so this was pretty difficult when she was no longer a newborn and would actually turn her head to view the tube. It was at that point, when the television was only used when she was sleeping. At first, this was tough because it was my habit to watch shows and movies frequently. Now, I’m grateful for this decision for so many reasons. One being, it allowed me to bond better with my child, rather than being distracted from less important things. Instead, I was able to focus more on watching my little girl grow and learn. Another benefit, it helped break my habit of my need to be in front of the television.
When my daughter turned two, my husband and I decided that it was time to share our love for movies and started watching Pixar and other animated shows when we felt like a family movie. Also, we approved Sesame Street when we needed to get things done around the house. Daycare, also allowed the TV to be on when my daughter was two as per our request, yet I think she was getting in some TV time prior to this. Gratefully, our sitter takes advantage of beautiful weather and has the kids outside as much as possible.
Then, about 3 months ago, things changed at daycare and instead of having just my sitters children there, another two-year old little girl started coming to our sitters a couple of times a week. At first, nothing had changed, but slowly, my daughter started becoming more and more aggressive. Mostly, we noticed this with directed attacks of yelling and screaming from her to my husband and I. Yes, we saw this a little bit before, but it really increased after this new arrival at the sitters. When we noticed this, I started researching again after one of my momma friends said she saw something about it being related. And what I found, was that the television (and also changes- like a new kid on the block) can cause increased aggression. Looking even further, we found there were many reasons to not let toddlers watch TV (I’ll get to those soon) and really any kids under age 8.
Before my daughter was born, I always read to wait until age 2 to let children watch television… I never saw anything about waiting even longer! I guess, I wasn’t looking hard enough and two years isn’t so bad when it comes to my limited television viewing. So I held out for the two year window and went for it when she reached this age. I’m so thankful for her early side-effects to present themselves, because it seems like we will be regressing back to almost zero television, with very rare special exceptions, due to the negative effects from early TV viewing.
When I first started researching this and then after we found out my daughter was being aggressive to the little girl at daycare, I decided we were going to do an experiment. Yes, another one, where we wouldn’t allow the TV for my daughter at our home for a month. I also, talked with my sitter and let her know of this experiment so she was on board too. She questioned whether the program had anything to do with it, as she makes sure what the kids are watching is “okay”. I told her it didn’t matter what program she allowed them to watch, any screen time could lead to aggression and other impacts. Thinking back at the shows that we have allowed her to watch though, makes me think almost always, there is some sort of undesirable characters portraying either aggression, or name calling, or belittling, etc. Children this young may not understand the complexities of these dynamics. Sometimes, I feel like even at my age, I have a difficult time as well. Take a horror movie, for example. Not only is my body in a stressed state during the one-and-a-half to two-hour time frame of the movie, but the images and dialect that I’m absorbing may have an impact on my subconscious brain creating things that I can’t comprehend.
“The American Psychological Association Help Center reveals that children’s TV programming alone contains about 20 violent acts an hour.”
The first things I noticed when we stopped watching TV was the increased aggression. She wanted to watch something and she wanted to watch it now! Screaming outbursts were the first thing to come, but I already said above, that we were having these anyway. They were just a bit worse, but I’m glad to say, they didn’t last long. Shortly after our decision of no TV, I noticed not only a reduction in aggression, but I noticed how her imagination and free play returned. Before we introduced the TV, her free play and imagination were so beautiful and with the ever-increasing addition that TV played it had the opposite effect on her independence. Seems like that would be backward, right?
One of the few reasons we added some TV was because it was supposed to keep her busy, while we got something done, yet it had the reverse effect! I couldn’t believe how quick her independence returned! Then, her love of reading returned and now I’ve noticed she is snacking less.
One night, when I went out with a friend for some much-needed best friend time, I noticed how much Genevieve had started to scream again. My husband fessed up to letting her watch “The Lego” movie when I was out and he too was a believer that less TV = less aggression. It certainly didn’t take long for the ill effects to return. This show definitely has aggressive content, although it’s not the worst thing she could watch. Studies have shown that a child under age 8 can not determine reality from fantasy, so even if you tell your child, “this isn’t real, it’s pretend” they won’t be able to distinguish between the two. When I researched this topic, not only was aggression a cause from early childhood on-screen time, but so were:
1. Childhood obesity due to evil advertisements aimed at children and increased snacking- now, I’m not the perfect person when it comes to no distraction while eating. I’m definitely a multitasker and anytime that I sit down, I feel like I should be productive as well. This feeling came after I became a mom. It’s not a smart choice, as it just increases stress -if I decide to have a snack while preoccupied by watching a movie or something else, this distraction takes away the body’s ability to focus on digesting foods and it makes it harder for us to clue in on the message that our body is full. It’s something that I am continually working on, but we’re all on our own journey to health, so I try not to beat myself up about it and just try to remember to do better.
2. Lack of focus and increased difficulty with learning , especially in terms of math. With so many behavioral problems in school these days, it makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons why our children are having so many difficulties in school or daycare settings. Even if the child isn’t in the classroom, I can see how distracting these devices are with even adults. And that’s not just the television, cellphones are a huge contributor also. I can’t say how irritated I get when technology is used and one of us is ignored in the process. Mainly, my daughter is a victim to this, and I can’t say I’m not to blame. Something will come up where I need to return an email or so forth and she needs me and I push it off and tell her I’m busy. I’m not saying I think I have to drop everything every time that my daughter wants my attention. I believe she needs to learn the value of patience, yet I think nowadays this balance has shifted.
3. Less bonding with family and friends. This, along with my no cell phone use for 30 days, was a big benefit I noticed with my family. I see how beautiful her free play is and we have been reading and playing more as a family also. She also has been playing outside more, which the nice weather we’ve been having has helped.
4. Disrupted sleep behavior. This goes for anyone at any age. If we are allowing ourselves or our children to watch TV up to their bedtime, or even worse-falling asleep with the TV on, this is disrupting our circadian rhythm. How? Well, from the blue light that is emitted from any electronic device with a screen. This blue light tricks our brain and sends signals that tell our brain that it’s 12 in the afternoon. See how this could throw off the circadian rhythm? With this it won’t let us sleep a restful, undisturbed 7-9 hours. Plus, if you are watching something that increases the stress hormones in your body like a scary movie or suspenseful program, it will take you longer to fall asleep and may affect your quality of deep REM sleep by giving you nightmares and so forth.
Like I said before, I know it’s not realistic for my daughter to have zero interaction with the TV, but I know that it will be a special occasion for us. When the occasion for a family movie day returns, I will also make it a point to pre-watch movies and communicate anything that may be confusing.
So what can you possibly do to wean out the screen time? Here are my family favorites…
- Read books. I love books! And I love that my daughter loves listening to them. She also interacts with them as well by asking questions about the story or pointing out certain characters. This makes it fun and keeps her engaged. Sometimes she will “read” them back to us when the story is finished. Some of the stories she can actually remember enough to say the right words so I’m going to venture a guess that reading increases memory.
- Go outside. The benefits for outside play are many. Some include exposure to fresh air, playing in the dirt increases the immune system, and the much-needed vitamin D from the sun. This also, helps get our circadian rhythm back on track from the exposure of the sun throughout the day.
- Play a game my mom always made it a point to get us games every year for Christmas as a family gift. So this year, we started this tradition with my daughter and bought “Memory.” My little one is actually really good at it! Also, for her birthday, one of our best friends bought her a puzzle and it is so awesome seeing my little one pick up a piece and then figure out the exact place it fits. The look on her face when she has figured it out is priceless
- Art time– another gift for Christmas this year, were art supplies. We bought my tot a coloring book, non-toxic markers, non-toxic paints, etc. She has made so many pictures and feels so proud when she decides to give them away to family and friends. It’s something we do as a family and it’s a wonderful bonding experience. Our fridge is getting really full of masterpieces
- Make a meal/snack. If you know me at all, you know that I love food! Best of all, I love making and experimenting with new recipes. Recently, Genevieve has been stepping up more and asks more to help me. She is a wonderful help! I believe this is one of the most important things you can teach a child, to make their own food
- Make up a story together. We all do our part in our family to make up stories. Most of the time it’s my husband who makes them up and I like to tell her about when I was pregnant with her and the day she was born. She is starting to tell her own stories and it’s pretty exciting to see what and how it all unfolds.
- Play date. Meet up with other moms/dads with their kids. It allows you to get in some adult time for the parents and it creates learning moments for the kids. Make sure your parenting styles are similar to make sure no one is going to leave offended. Want to raise a child that doesn’t grow up to be a passive communicator, then I highly suggest you being open to reading a book called, “It’s Okay Not to Share“
- Mirroring – The most important thing to remember is to be a good roll model by being the adult you would like to see them grow into. if you want kids who yell, then yell and scream, and let them watch inappropriate things when they can’t understand the context. Eat unhealthy meals and they’ll do the same. Instead, respect them as the person they are and show them compassion and how to grow into a wonderful person and I bet you they will. I think too many people think of kids as inferior and thus treat them so. This is an absolute shame! Children deserve the same respect as anyone else, if not, more because of learned behavior. Lets do right by those who will someday be taking care of us and leading the world.
Did any of this resonate with you? If so, I’d love hear about it!
For more tips, you can visit this website.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education. Media violence. Pediatrics. 2001 Nov;108(5):1222-6.