Should You Let Your Toddler Or Preschooler Watch TV? How Much TV, If Any, Is Acceptable For Kids?

Should you let your toddler or preschooler watch TV? How much TV, if any, is acceptable for kids? If you’re like many moms, you might be “guilty” of doing it: flipping on the television and playing a DVR’d episode of Mickey Mouse. It’s not that you’re a bad mom or you use the television to babysit, but every mom needs a shower or a few minutes to make a phone call, right?
Laura Willard

While many parents choose not to allow their preschoolers to watch any television at all, and while that is the ideal situation, the fact is that many parents do switch on the TV for brief periods of time. Television isn’t an ideal activity for a preschool aged child, but it turns out that in moderation and with carefully chosen programming, it’s not the worst thing your little one can do with 30 minutes a day.

Early development in children
Teresa Signorelli, PhD, a Speech Language Pathologist and a Clinic Director at Marymount Manhattan College, explains that there are five areas of human development that are critical during the early years. These areas are physical, intellectual, social, emotional and moral. Dr. Signorelli feels that physical and intellectual growth are especially important because they help with other areas of growth. As such, children should ideally spend their time engaging in interactive activities that require physical effort. And unfortunately for parents who need a break every once in a while, television just isn’t interactive or physical.

So no television is best, but…
First and foremost, the American Association of Pediatrics suggests that children under two should not watch television, period. Dr. Signorelli suggests that when moms or dads needs a few minutes, they put their baby in a playpen with a few toys.

However, for your preschool-aged child, Dr. Signorelli recommends you turn on no more than one hour of television each day at the most. And, of course, it’s even better if you’re able to use it less or skip days altogether.

Choose programming carefully
In addition to limiting the amount of television your preschooler watches each day, it is best to carefully select the type of shoe she watches. Many children’s television programs are fast and full of stimuli -- they move from one scene to the next quickly and they will alternate from low sound to loud sound in a short period of time. Dr. Signorelli explains that research shows that this sort of stimulation can overload a young child’s system. As such, it is better to choose slower paced programs, such as Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street.

Make it more interactive
While many children’s programs are academically focused -- they aim to teach a child numbers, letters, shapes and colors, for example -- they lack the interactive quality that children need to truly learn. Instead of being shown a picture of an apple and being told “A” is for “apple,” children need to hold an apple, look at it and experience it firsthand, says Dr. Signorelli. This is where parents can turn television into a more educational tool.

First, know what your preschooler is watching.  DVR programs you feel will be most beneficial and prescreen them. That way, when you need 20 minutes to grab a shower or prepare dinner, you can comfortably switch on the show without having to watch, too. But after it’s over, Dr. Signorelli recommends using it as a learning tool. If the theme of the show was fruit, she suggests taking your child to the grocery store and pointing out and talking about fruit. Basically, apply the television lesson to a real life lesson.

The most important thing to remember is that your young child’s brain is growing and developing every day and he needs real life experiences and interactions to aid that development. It only makes sense that plopping your preschooler down in front of the television for hours on end is not good for his brain growth. However, if you need a short break during the day and you decide to let him watch a 20 minute program, you can do so without guilt. Just make sure to choose appropriate programming and limit it. All moms need to shower once in a while!

More on baby parenting:

-How TV influences infant behavior

-Turn off the TV and turn on to physical activity

-Baby's first two years: Brain building activities

-A timeline for baby's social milestones

Tags: programs television

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