AND TV: HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? (WINTER)
Winter has arrived and your children
are more indoors with less to do. TV seems like an easy option
and before you know it, your kids are watching between two to
four hours of TV a day. The more you object, the more they protest
and the more attractive the TV becomes. You are about to throw
it out or capitulate! Sheryl Cohen, an educational psychologist
takes a closer look at Children and TV: what are the effects,
how much is too much and what is your role as parents in setting
It is naïve to think that
TV has no impact on our children and our families. Our children
are fast becoming part of a TV culture, which includes computers
and cell-phones. A more realistic question, therefore is what
kind of impact does television have?
The greatest criticism of TV is
that it is often punctuated with violence. A study in America
(by Tomlinson-Keasey), showed that physical aggression occurs
between 10 and 20 times per hour on prime-time weekend viewing.
They conclude that by the time the average child graduates from
high school, he or she will have witnessed 13 000 violent deaths
on TV. There is also evidence, which shows that when children
watch aggression on TV they are more likely to behave aggressively.
And this has been shown to be more apparent in pre-school children.
Another common criticism is that
TV interferes with family communication. Studies show that the
more TV children watch, the less communication there is between
family members. An American Study (from the University of Missouri)
showed that on Average, fathers spend 8 minutes talking to their
children each day, working mothers spend on Average 11 minutes
and stay at home mothers spend less than 30 minutes communicating
with their children each day. By comparison, another study showed
that children spend an Average of 2 – 4 hours watching
TV per day. The comparisons are shocking. But one does not know
whether poor communication causes children to watch TV or whether
TV causes poor communication. The significant point is, however,
that children spend more time watching TV than communicating
with their parents.
I have often watched children watching
TV. They seem to be in a trance-like state, an altered state
of consciousness. What becomes apparent is that they are in
a state of deep relaxation. What is worrying is that they loose
the capacity to filter out what is real and what is not, what
is right and what is not. They loose the capacity to think.
In this sense, therefore they become suggestible to whatever
is being presented and this might not be in their best interests.
Bruno Bettleheim an Italian psychologist
said that TV does not necessarily provide healthy role models,
because these characters, unlike books, never grow. Solutions
are oversimplified and therefore misleading. If you buy this
car you will be cool. But maybe being cool depends on more than
the car. Maybe being a good mother has more to it than buying
a specific type of food or washing powder for your family.
But perhaps the effects of TV depend
as much on what children bring to TV, as what TV brings to them.
Jonathan loves watching a programme about a little mouse that
repeatedly outsmarts the big cat. He can watch this over and
over again. Jonathan, like many other children often feels helpless
in a world where adults are in control. He can identify with
the little mouse that wishes to be in charge of the big cat
because he too wishes to be more in control of his world. So,
this programme gives him in fantasy what he can’t have
in reality, and this is cathartic for him. Jonathan brings his
own feelings to TV as much as TV brings its ideas to Jonathan.
What is significant therefore, is to see what your children
like in stories, in TV programmes, in museums and in play. What
is it that they attach to? What is it that excites them the
most? This gives parents insight into their children’s
thoughts, their feelings, their fantasies and their realities.
So what is your role as parent? Here are some ideas:
Parents need to be both sensors and mediators! This
means that you have to sensor what is appropriate to watch on
TV and what is not. You have to decide this for yourself and
for your children. But this is not your only role. To mediate
what children see is also important. This means that you can
talk to your children about what they see. So if you are watching
the cricket with your son and a streaker flies across the screen,
this is not to say that you sensor all sport. This is an opportunity
to learn from the experience. It’s an opportunity to talk
to your children about the world.
2. Videos are far more appropriate for children, since
parents can be sure about what children are watching.
3. Because TV is passive, balance it with active play.
4. Allow children to develop their auditory skills apart
form their visual skills. Listening to stories is a
wonderful way for children to build their listening skills and
their imagination. Have you ever read a book and then seen the
movie? Sometimes the movie is so disappointing because you built
the characters in your mind – and they are much more rich
and exciting than the movie’s version. TV can diminish
children’s capacity to imagine.
5. TV and videos can stimulate play. When Liam
watches cricket he likes to go outside to play cricket. This
is healthy, but a balance must be encouraged.
6. TV promotes instant gratification –
even wildlife videos do not reflect the reality of time. A baby
calf is born and grows old in the same half-hour show. Balance
it with slower activities such as planting a seed. Children
need to know that there is a process to life, which unfolds,
and that not all experiences are instantaneous.
There are other positives to the
use of TV, computers or videos
Video’s or computers can be good babysitters.
When you have to feed the baby and your toddler keeps disrupting
the process, it is a relief to put on a video and have some
peace and quiet for a while. This is appropriate. It supports
you in order for you to support the children. Of course this
is open to abuse and needs to be monitored.
Samuel was starting his first day at primary school. He was
very anxious. He was ready early in the morning and waiting
to go. But the longer he waited the more anxious he became.
His mom recommended that he watch some sport on TV. This gave
him the opportunity to stop thinking for a bit, to take his
mind off his worries. But this, of course, needs to
be accompanied by acknowledging his feelings.
Gina’s parents are divorced. When she comes home from
her dad, her mom asks her “what did you do? Where did
you go? Did you eat? Have your bathed?” Gina feels bombarded
by questions. She needs some “transitional space”;
some emotional time and space to help her with the transition
form one home to another. TV is a nice way to do this! To
give her some time before she adjusts to the demands of a different
You might be wondering “But how much is too much?”
much time as they watch is about the same amount of time children
need to be read to. So if you can read to them for
4 hours then let them watch for 4 hours. Balance reading, playing
and TV or computers so that children are getting what they need
in a day. Clocks and timers can be used to help children monitor
their own viewing. One family decided to let their son watch
30 minutes of TV a day, and that he could choose when to use
his time. When this child turned on the TV he had to decide
whether it was worth using his 30 minutes or not. He was using
his discretion. This is an important life skill.