These days there is a wealth of children’s TV programming available on every channel, much of which claims to be educational and instructional. For parents, it can feel like an easy option to simply let this occupy kid’s minds before and after school, as well as during the day for preschool aged children. However the question becomes, what level of this is safe for young minds? A study shows that children aged 2-5 spend on average 32 hours in front of the TV – almost a full time job! Most authorities agree that television isn’t inherently harmful for kids – in fact it can be the opposite, and many programs have been specially developed in conjunction with educational experts to meet certain standards and provide a genuinely constructive experience. However it’s all about moderation.
In addition to learning, kids also benefit from the imagination stimuli provided by television. Even if a programme’s agenda isn’t strictly educational, it can still help kids think creatively and give them ideas for playing and drawing. A study published in the Sociology journal shows that children who watched more TVs could be seen to do better academically than their peers (however there are also studies proving the opposite true, so everything should be taken with a grain of salt). Stories and moral lessons are often tied into fun and expressive characters, and kids will take lessons and knowledge away from this even when they feel like they’re just watching something for fun. However for younger viewers in particular, these kinds of shows should not make up the staple of what they watch. Instead the specially designed educational programming is a better alternative.
In New Zealand almost all of the national broadcasting channels offer different shows according to the time and audience they’re targeting. Very early morning (6am-7am) is usually filled with preschool-aged programmes, while just after this the slightly more mature cartoons begin aimed at kids just before school. After this it switches back to a younger audience, with stay at home parents in mind. Therefore parents should pay close attention to the timeslot and its content to find one that suits their child. Other paid channels such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr and Disney Playhouse offer round the clock coverage that targets a specific age group.
With all of this on offer, it’s a distinct possibility to allow your kid to sit and watch for a large portion of the day – especially when programs claim to be offering an educational service. However passive absorption of information will only go so far, and doesn’t actually require a child’s brain to be active and responsive. Therefore it needs to be balanced with interactive play, either with parents or other children. Although television can improve reading and writing skills, these need to be exercised fully in order to be properly developed. There’s no hard and fast rule for how many hours per day can be healthily spent in front of the television set, but for all its benefits, it shouldn’t be the main source of occupation during the day.
Kids can certainly learn through television, but this needs to be supported and balanced with other means.