Media Kids

It’s happened to all parents; we’re tired and we need some quiet time while we take a break, or perhaps prepare dinner or do the laundry, so we sit our child down in front of the TV or a video game console and allow them to immerse themselves in the wonders/evils (delete as you see fit) of modern technology. What follows is often a bucket-load of guilt. Are we damaging our children? Are we neglecting them? How much TV is too much? Fear not and rest assured, fellow parents, all of this is perfectly normal. Unless your child spends all day every day in front of the box, then chances are you’re doing nothing wrong at all.

Of course, all of this raises another question – what should our children be watching? For the most part, this simply requires common sense. Don’t leave your children with the remote and open access – daytime TV means nothing in this day and age with cable, Netflix and Youtube. The last thing you need is to return to the TV and find your child halfway through Cannibal Holocaust, Debbie Does

Dallas, or Scarface. You already know this. However, even the shows that qualify as “kid’s TV” needs careful monitoring.

A little bit of Spongebob Squarepants won’t hurt any child, but this show is incredibly over-stimulating. An hour of Spongebob can result in effects similar to those in A Clockwork Orange (Another film not suitable for minors), when people are left wide-eyed by being forced to watch stimulating images. Your children will act as if they’ve consumed a lot of sugar and food coloring. If you need proof, sneak up behind your child during an episode of Spongebob and switch off the TV, then stand back and observe the fireworks. Moderate that Spongebob intake.

We cannot only pick on Mr. Squarepants though; he is far from the only guilty party. The Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and the others are packed with cartoons with little or no educational value. They are often safe and entertaining and that’s ok, but they don’t teach anything other than how to shout and be whacky.

Fortunately, there are plenty of shows that do offer educational value. Sesame Street remains a classic, and justifiably so. The alphabet, numbers, basic morality – all are made fun. Children are learning without knowing it. The same can be said for shows like Dora the Explorer, Superwhy, and The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. There are many more, and thanks to the aforementioned Netflix and cable “On Demand” they’re all available at the touch of a button.

There are a lot of video games available that fulfill a similar purpose. Again, there’s nothing wrong with letting your child play a bit of Lego Batman from time to time, just steer clear of Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto. Much better though are the many learning games on the market. Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster teaches kids to read, and also features puzzles. Other greats include Smarty Pants, Reader Rabbit, and National Geographic Challenge.

We can smell the outrage but remember – none of this is intended as a replacement for good parenting, just an occasional supplement. The fact is that all parents are human, and they all need a break. That time might not correspond with nap time, and one parent might be at work. Don’t abuse the information we’re giving you, but allow yourself to stay sane.

According to an article on BabyCenter.com called “TV Watching Guidelines for Toddlers,” “The average American child watches more than four hours of TV a day, despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that kids 2 and older watch no more than one to two hours daily.”

The article goes on to say that TV watching for toddlers should be broken up into 10-15 minute increments to prevent the child’s brain going on autopilot, and that it should be switched off during mealtimes and kept out of the bedroom.”

Michael LeFerre is a child therapist at his Heartmind Play practice in Boulder, and he says that it’s more about parents setting limits. “The studies that I’ve read show that when parents are not regulating the technology that they use, then the children don’t learn how to regulate that for themselves,” LeFerre says. “I’m a play therapist so I work with the nervous system and the emotions that are behind that, and oftentimes, if I see a child who’s addicted to screens, or is using that, they’re trying to calm themselves down from anxiety, depression, or whatever it is that they’re feeling. Oftentimes, it means that the parents are less attuned to what’s going on with their individual child. I guess my second answer is, it depends on the child. Some kids can do well with two hours of TV, because they’re getting their other needs met in other ways. But often, you’ll see kids, after they go spend an hour in front of the television, they start to act out and hit, and start to be in a weird mood because they’re missing the connection with their parents and they need to refill that connection tank.”

LeFerre says that too much TV isn’t as much damaging as over-stimulating. “Let’s say your little one goes to a birthday party,” he says. “There’s a ton of kids, stimulation, noises and bright lights, and you notice that afterwards your kid is acting up. Well, of course. Their nervous system hasn’t found a way to calm down, and we as parents are the ones to show how to calm their nervous system down. The same can be true of media. You might see a change in behavior and that would be a sign to parents to have some connect time. You read a book or wrestle and rough house. There’s a thing that I recommend to my parents called ‘special time,’ which is where you set a timer and you give undivided attention to your child for 15-20 minutes. Yes, media can be a problem but it doesn’t have to be if you can understand and be aware of what’s going on and how it affects your child – then you can counteract those things in other ways. I’m a parent too and I understand that sometimes, you just need a break. Sometimes, you just have to use a show to do that. As a professional, I understand that and I help parents to work with that rather than shame them and say, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that – you should never put your kid in front of a television.’ I just don’t think that’s very helpful.”

Finally, LeFerre doesn’t believe in “Thou Shalt nots.” “I don’t think there’s a hard, fast rule for anything,” he says. “I love following the passions of kids. I think that’s so important, to allow them to love what they love. My son is obsessed with construction vehicles, and he watches Bob the Builder all the time. He’ll branch out every so often, and then he’ll go back. It’s a matter of really knowing your child, knowing what’s appropriate and what is to much, and then matching that with the values of your family.”

They seem like fairly simply guidelines to follow. We don’t know if a full meal can be prepared in 15 minutes, but it’s about making the effort and not just using the TV as a means to shut your child up long-term. Use that ‘special time,’ counteract the over-stimulation, and give yourself a break.

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