Is TV really that Bad for your Toddler

TV isn’t necessarily bad for toddlers – providing there are certain boundaries and limits established and upheld by the parents. In fact there is a great deal of terrific material on TV for toddlers these days. That’s certainly the case here in Australia and presumably it would be the same in many other countries as well.

My children have benefited enormously from the wealth of wonderful educational entertainment on TV in the past decade. For our little girl, who was profoundly disabled, it was an absolute godsend. She received so much stimulation, pleasure and worthwhile output from the TV from a very early age. It opened up the world to her and allowed her to experience so many adventures in a virtual playground she could not possibly explore in person.

But even able-bodied children cannot begin to experience the myriad of experiences they are able to be part of and interact with through the realm of TV. Our little boy has also gained so much over the years from this wonderful media. In his case too, our circumstances meant he benefited from it more than many children may need to. We were often very housebound due to our little girl’s condition and TV was a great consolation.

There will always be the knockers who criticize just about everything that’s made for kids’ TV – but honestly, I have seen the best and worst of it – and a huge amount of it is of a very high standard indeed. There is an abundance of educational value in many of these programs. I have even learned a lot of things myself from watching kids programs.

Australia’s legendary kids’ program, Play School, which has been running now for over forty years, is a leader in its field. Kids don’t just sit and watch it like unresponsive zombies, as many experts over the years have claimed kids do when put in front of the TV. They interact very animatedly with the presenters and regular toy characters, singing along, dancing, calling out verbal responses, etc. I even remember reading of an autistic child who spoke their first word when watching Play School.

There are many other kids’ TV shows that are brilliant too. I have to say that Sesame Street is right up there and keeps on producing fabulous, creative material for kids. Personally I love this show. It has fantastic, adorable characters, excellent lessons about life, very funny and witty sketches and some quite beautiful little songs that can be very deep and meaningful. It’s also fun to see who the next celebrity guest star will be. They have even had the likes of Buzz Aldrin, Kofi Annan, Garth Brooks and Destiny’s Child on there, interacting with Elmo and other beloved, iconic Jim Henson Muppet characters. Sesame Street is certainly one of many kids’ programs that the parents can thoroughly enjoy watching with their kids

Many of these programs not only teach kids about things like the alphabet and numbers and general knowledge about the world around them. They are also exceptionally good at communicating life lessons, values, morals and society norms of acceptable behaviour.

I could easily reel off a long list of shows I’ve been greatly impressed by over the years – and they just keep coming. The sad thing is that we no longer have our little girl to enjoy these programs now, as she went to heaven just before Christmas. Our little boy still enjoys them, but I wonder how long it will be before he decides he’s growing out of them. I hope it’s not too soon. I will be sorry to see this era of our lives come to an end. Of course I could still have the shows on for myself – but it’s really not the same without the kids to share them with – and when my little fellow is at school I do like to switch over to the morning shows for adults.

That brings me to another point. Even a lot of other TV programs are family-friendly and I don’t believe there’s any harm in toddlers seeing them. The average toddler won’t be focusing on them anyway. Their attention span just isn’t that long. They will be conscious of things that are happening but will be busy doing other things. The main thing is that parents are aware that their children do take in a lot of what’s on TV, even if it’s not directed at their age group. So we do need to ensure all that’s on while they are awake is family-friendly and won’t have a negative, disturbing or frightening effect on them.

Kids even enjoy the commercials. We get tired of them and wish there weren’t so many. But I’ve found my little boy enjoys the ads as much as the programs. They learn to sing along to the jingles – and on the whole there’s no harm in that either. It’s all contributing in various ways to their mental development. It helps with their recognition of many things in their world and I believe TV commercials played their own minor role in our son’s phenomenal development of literacy skills and vocabulary. Kids are absorbing these things like little sponges and processing them in a whole lot of ways.

We do need to ensure they are not over-stimulated of course. I personally have always been very much opposed to anything I regarded as hype on the TV. I disapprove of kids’ programs that are just a lot of noise, colour and action without any educational or moral value. When they come on it’s time to hit the “off” button.

I also think that a lot of the so-called reality programs are inappropriate for kids to be watching. They do nothing to give them a healthy view of the world.

TV can be a great source of entertainment and education. Our little boy is very bright, responsive, articulate, outgoing and sociable, keen to learn, self-motivated and has an active imagination. He’s doing remarkably well at school. For fear of sounding like I’m bragging I’ll add that yes, he can be naughty and difficult too – but no kid (nor adult) is perfect. The point I’m making though is that I believe he gained more than we could possibly know from watching a lot of high-quality kids’ TV programs as a toddler – and beyond.

He did make me laugh about a year ago when he suddenly announced he didn’t want to watch Play School any more as it was too babyish and he’d never learned anything from that dumb show. I assured him that he could have no idea just how much he had learned from it – and that I could remember when he was just a baby how excited he would get when he heard the opening theme song for Play School. I was glad when, so typical of fickle childish behaviour, he decided that this old favourite did still have something to offer him after all.

Our little boy defies the theories we hear so often that TV stifles kids’ creativity and breeds learning difficulties, as well as a low attention span. I think it has to depend a lot on what they’re watching. If you keep close tabs on that, then I say TV can be a wonderful thing for your toddler – and something you can also receive a lot of pleasure from sharing with them.