Children and TV Viewing – Moderation is Key

Children and TV Viewing – Moderation is Key 

By Sharon Rechter

The issue of children and their television viewing habits has been debated for many years, with some questioning whether or not children should be watching TV at all. I’m a mom of two young girls myself. I understand the challenges we face as parents regarding TV exposure and our kids. It’s a complicated issue, leaving parents unsure where boundaries should be set. What’s an appropriate age for children to start watching TV? What kind of programming is beneficial for young children, if any at all? There are so many questions with parents unsure how to best answer!

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that 95% of American babies watch television. A staggering percentage like this tells me the debate regarding television and kids shouldn’t focus on the simple act of watching TV. Instead, we need to focus on what our kids are watching, how much they’re watching, and under what conditions they’re watching it.

There are some who regard television as an “electronic babysitter”, offering no practical value for children outside a temporary distraction. We’ve all heard stories about parents getting housework done while unsupervised children sit inches from the TV for hours on end. To be sure, this situation does occur! Personally, I know very few parents who have NEVER turned on the TV for a few minutes in hopes of a little peace and quiet (or maybe just a chance to fold the laundry without a little one knocking over the pile of folded towels). While that’s true, it’s important for parents to understand that as it stands with many other activities, TV can actually be used as an important learning tool. If used correctly, it enhances the development of our kids. Parents need to take the reins here and do the research. They should take the opportunity to find shows that are age-appropriate and designed by experts in childhood development.

Content is key, but it’s not the only factor involved. When doing research, identify a variety of shows appropriate for your child. The simple act of continually refreshing the programming your child watches exposes them to new and exciting things. A child will get bored with the same programming at some point, having memorized the entire show and ceasing to learn anything new. Children love repetition but they also love learning different things. They love demonstrating the things they’ve learned, which is easier to do when parents watch TV with their kids. Resist the temptation to turn on the TV and walk away. Supervising this time with your child shows you’re interested too. It allows you to “police” the programming under the guise of being interested in what they’re learning. Ask questions during and after the show in an effort to connect with your child – this will help them retain what they’ve just learned.

Keep in mind that while television can be a valuable addition to your child’s education, it is essential to maintain a healthy balance between time spent in front of the TV with that spent performing hands-on activities and playing outside.

There is no concrete rule on the amount of time children should spend on each of these activities, but trust your instincts to know when enough is enough. Make the transition from one activity to the next easier by focusing on the positive. Instead of shutting off the TV and pushing your child out the door for some sunshine, try and incorporate what they’ve learned on TV into the other things they do during the day. My daughters learned sign language thanks to educational television, and it was great using the signs during our everyday interactions.

The company I co-founded, BabyFirst, produced a television series called, I Can Sign, which helps parents communicate with their very young children before they’re able to speak. I found it to be an amazing way to interact and connect with my girls, and it really fostered a bond between us long before they had learned to talk. That was a few years ago, but we still use it as a “secret language” between us.

Television, like many things in life, is good in moderation. Be sure you know what your kids are watching by selecting what they watch and ensure they aren’t overexposed by watching with them. What your kids learn from the right TV program can strengthen your bond as a family and lay the foundation for formal learning in school. Television should never be a babysitter, but it can be a teacher!

About Sharon Rechter

Co-Founder, BabyFirst

Sharon Rechter, along with business partner, Guy Oranim, conceptualized and co-founded BabyFirst (www.babyfirsttv.com), which is a global TV channel for tots. In her role as executive vice president, she leads the business development and marketing activities for the company – with a clear passion to bring quality, new educational programming to families of babies and toddlers.

Rechter has a broad background in television programming and recently served as the vice president and head of operations for The Israeli Network (the Israeli television channel in the U.S.). She was responsible for the general management of the network, and focused on areas including business development, advertising and subscriptions. Before entering the television broadcast industry, Rechter headed the strategic planning department at GNS Advertising in Israel where she was responsible for developing strategic plans for a variety of lifestyle brands.

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