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Effects of TV on child development

We have all witnessed the dazzling effects of the TV on a crying toddler, have been privy to the hypnotizing consequences of television on a little cousin or sibling, and have ourselves experienced the addictive nature of a TV screen. But when one compares what an addiction of such gravity does to a developing mind rather than a developed one, the effects are catastrophic.

However, let’s first look at the effects that go beyond those of brain development. When asking a senior adult about their childhood and comparing it to today’s childhood, one’s mind is blown. Television for children has not only decreased social interaction –a necessity for social development– but it has also instilled in children the constant need to be entertained every second of every minute. A trip to the grocery store for a child used to have the appeal of an adventure, while now it is simply a burden, and time away from electronics.

It is extremely tempting — even I have fallen victim to it — to turn on the TV to soothe the crying sounds of an exasperated child, since sometimes, it is a magic resolve for uncomfortable public tantrums. However, this creates expectations, and a habit of entertainment at all times, which makes it hard for kids to develop a sense of awareness of their surroundings. If a child is accustomed to going to a restaurant to eat and watching TV on a parent’s phone, dinner time will never again be just dinner time –it will be subconsciously tied to TV time.

The times when kids knew the names of all their fellow children on their block, were seen riding bikes around the neighborhood, and were taking their community by storm are spoken about in hushed, reverent tones. The TV has erased the need to go outside and look for company, it has erased a sense of community between children, and in turn, erased the intangible connection of tiny humans that was present when there was more than one of them in a room. Studies have found that prolonged television viewing is associated with diminished empathy among children.

But aside from the inexplicable shift in childhood experiences, television and children are a lethal combination for kids’ development. It’s not just about the potentially too-early exposure to adult topics or the robbing of time from social activities, or even its link to consumerism. It’s about the negative impact on a child’s brain.

Compelling data indicates that exposing children to screens before they reach 18 months of age has enduring adverse impacts on their language development, reading skills, and short-term memory. Furthermore, it plays a role in sleep disturbances and attention difficulties. All because of what their brain isn’t doing when they’re watching TV. The passive nature of television viewing may limit children’s active engagement with the environment, hindering their opportunities for hands-on learning and exploration. TV enables the creation of a zombie more than that of an actual human being.

It is said that screen time is not only beginning to affect the quality of parent-child and family interactions but is also causing the development of antisocial tendencies in children.

Physical health isn’t out of the question either. It is said that television viewing during early childhood can establish a pattern that puts heavy viewers at a heightened risk of sedentary behavior and overweight issues.

Limiting screen time is always an option, but once that attachment has already been developed, it will give parents access to what people call the post-screen-time meltdown, especially when it comes to children who don’t yet have the mental ability to practice self-control.

But to those who are reading this a little too late: disregard my choice of words, it is never too late. Time is a social construct. You will just have to deal with the resemblance of an addict going through withdrawal.

Pediatrician David Hill recommends, regardless of content, “cap your child’s electronic entertainment time at 1 hour a day from age 18 months to age five.” Parents can and should monitor their kids’ screen use. After all, we live in a digital age, and complete abstinence from screen time is out of the question.  Not all TV is bad.


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