Admit it: how many parents out there parked their child(ren) in front of the television during at least part of the Christmas and New Year’s period?
How many of you travelled to relatives’ houses, with your child’s favourite DVDs carefully secreted in your luggage, as a backup plan to entertain your child during the holiday lulls?
Every parent has his or her smug area of achievement – perhaps you have the perfectly outfitted child, or you have raised your young with perfect table manners from a freakishly young age. Possibly you have educated your child’s palate to such an admirable state that, when offered hot dogs or chips, your four-year-old brightly says: “Actually, do you have any artichokes or some scallops fried with capers and sage? I’dfar prefer those.”
For me, it's television. I am proud that my 18-month-old has never watched TV at home. When she’s at a friend’s or relative’s house, and other children are glued to the box, she just wanders off. Her brief brushes with In The Night Garden and Teletubbies have not left a favourable impression.
I get a lot of other things wrong – she still sleeps in my bed, for example, an issue we are tackling next week with a new bed, a new room, and a new resolve for parental discipline – but on the TV issue, numerous studies suggest that I’ve got it right.
According to one survey, British children watch as many as five hours of television a day. Their European peers watch around two. In the survey, 15,000 children aged six to 17, across 12 countries, were asked about their use of television, computers, books and the internet. The study found that British children were most like to prefer watching television to reading.
The LSE report, “Children and their changing media environment”, said our young people spent such a lot of time in front of the box because they didn’t know what else to do.
This report was published a decade ago, yet we still haven’t figured out how to entertain children without the box; a more recent report suggested that the average British child spent five hours and 20 minutes in front of a screen each day.
Children do not need television for development
This study found that the more TV a toddler watched, the worse he or she did at school. Higher levels of television viewing in children as young as two were linked to lower levels of engagement in the classroom, poor achievement in maths, a decrease in general physical activity, and an increase in the consumption of junk food and body mass index.
Perhaps most shocking to me was that more than 40 per cent of children under the age of two watch TV every day, and nearly one in five watch DVDs every day.
While there are plausible arguments for the educational and entertainment values of television for older children, there is absolutely no benefit to children under the age of two in watching TV.
I love films. I also love good-quality entertainment. I have fond memories of television treats from childhood. I did not spend my evenings as a nine-year-old reading Proust in the original French; I spent them trying to con my mother into adjusting her one-hour-of-TV-after-your-homework’s-finished rule. It rarely worked. And so the television was a treat – not a significant part of each day. And that’s how it should be for children of all ages.
Just over a year ago, I spent a pleasant hour or so of a long flight from London to New York chatting to a friendly stewardess as my daughter inspected the kitchen equipment on the aeroplane. Our conversation on parenting turned sour, however, when the stewardess, a mother of two pre-teens, berated me for not purchasing the full set of Baby Einstein DVDs for my child. How do you expect her to get ahead at school? she asked. By talking to a human being rather than sitting in front of a box, I snapped, and returned to my seat.
Of course, as parents, we need to find things to occupy our children so that we can make supper, clean up, and have a moment of sanity ourselves. But TV is not the only option, and it is certainly not the best.
Perhaps one of the best New Year’s resolutions we can make as parents is to eliminate the TV as a daily babysitter, and replace harmful and boring hours in front of the box with more interesting and productive activities.
By Sally Peck
Source: Telegraph.co.uk - http://goo.gl/OSxvT