A “TV diet”
I recently read an article about a “TV diet.” It said what children watched was deemed more important than the amount of time spent in front of the TV. That’s a concept that I can wrap my mind around, and I bet if you’re a parent, you can, too. Especially with preschool children and TV, they must be more closely monitored than for other ages, because they are in their most formative years.
Preschool children are unable to differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary. So when they see a cartoon character fall off a cliff and get up and walk away, they have no frame of reference to understand that if they fall off a cliff, something much different will occur. Preschoolers are also more apt to act aggressively after witnessing violence on TV, especially in action programs with violence as well as cartoons. Parents should be cautious about allowing kids to watch these programs and should also avoid purchasing action figures that are spin offs.
Children 2-5 years of age should spend most of their time playing and socializing with other children their age. Kids under the age of 2 should not be watching television at all, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society. It is more important for parents to be interacting with their children at this stage.
So what does a parent look for when allowing a preschool child to watch TV?
Here are a few guidelines:
Look for repeatable themes
Monkey see, monkey do really applies here. Look for programming that offers your child a chance to learn something he can repeat when the TV is off. Curious George offers lessons in math, science and engineering that children may take away from their TV time. Counting, experimenting and building are all things that can be referenced when playing with your child. “Remember when Curious George did this?” Super Why emphasizes letter recognition which is another activity children can repeat.
Learning to resolve conflicts
Preschoolers are full of emotions, expressed out loud and to the max. They obviously don’t yet know how to manage those feelings, so finding programming that teaches positive conflict resolution is also a good idea. Clifford the Big Red Dog does an admirable job of showing how to deal with strong emotions and how those feeling affect others.
Different age, gender, and ethnic characters
Preschoolers are surrounded by people of different ages and relationships. Parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and friends all contribute to our community and are important to each other. Children’s viewings should emphasize that positive aspect of relationships. It’s important for children to realize that both boys and girls are strong and capable, and that activities are not necessarily just for boys or just for girls. Sesame Street does an admirable job of incorporating different ages, genders and ethnic personalities.
A love of thinking and learning
A child’s attitude toward school is largely formed just prior to and in the early grades. We want our preschoolers to enter the educational environment ready not only academically but also in terms of having a love of learning. TV character like those in Dinosaur Train introduce your preschooler to these concepts through a love of dinosaurs and trains. Critical thinking skills leveraged in this show are, well, critical.
Around the world
Preschoolers have little concept of space and time. Here or there, yesterday or tomorrow, mean little in the early years. Introduce them to other places and times through the medium of TV. Especially helpful are shows that allow children to travel with characters that are different from them, or perhaps speak a different language. Dora the Explorer and Diego! are two shows that teach basic Spanish and English together as the characters explore the world and introduce the viewer to different regions of the natural world. Maya and Miguel also incorporate American Sign Language and is strongly Hispanic.
Sharing the child’s world
Children aren’t born with positive skills. They don’t know how and must be taught to share and to play together. Their self-esteem is more caught than taught, but some TV can help them see themselves in a positive light. A four year old navigating his way through relationships with the patience of his parents is Caillou, who can help your child understand social constructs.
Skip the commercials
Saturday morning cartoons has evolved into programming that is more sales pitch than good viewing. Each program is interrupted numerous times to introduce toys that every child absolutely “must have.” But engaging a child’s imagination with simple things is more important, and time in front of the TV should not be an exercise in materialism.
Whatever you decide to allow your preschool child to watch on tv, spend time watching alongside so that you can talk about what has been learned and what can be used as a building block for further learning.
For the FCC Guidelines for Preschool Children and TV, click this link: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/childrens-educational-television