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Children and Television A Review of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five by Lisa Guernsey

I think Lisa’s book is worth reading, so rather than summarize what she has written so well, I will share some anecdotes about the impact making some changes has had on my own son and family. I saw positive improvement within the first couple weeks of cutting back significantly on television watching. First, my son is now better able to suggest creative activities on his own. Before we made the changes we made, I would suggest things for him to do and sometimes he would do them and sometimes he would not. Now, instead of asking to watch television, he asks to go for a bike ride, to paint, to read, to play blocks, to dress up in his astronaut suit, to color, to watch me cook, to play with his trucks, and to play on the patio.

Turning off the television more often has also resulted in better family experiences. My husband and I are both more likely to play with our son and to engage in multiple play activities before bedtime. We are learning more about how he thinks. When we play, we also have opportunities to redirect his play. Before we started turning off the television I did not know his play needed redirecting. I knew he liked to “crash,” but I did not know he also wanted to “roar” and “hit.” Now, we are giving him direction about how to play with us so that he can play appropriately with his peers and friends as he grows. I am also embarrassed to acknowledge that I see reduced violence in my young son now that the television is on less. I’m glad we made some changes, I only wish we had done it sooner.

This book is worth reading because it does not demonize parents who allow their children to watch television; it does not even suggest that the television should never be turned on. It does however, make a strong argument for being very intentional about the programming that children watch and being careful about background television and noise. It gives clear reasons for such intentionality and gives some guidance about the kinds of programs that have value for young children. Lisa writes about the impact of background television, about programs that are educational, about programs that teach positive behavior and about programs that claim to teach children a second language. Everything she has written is well supported and all of the sources are included so that parents can read the original research if they choose to.

Finally, it was hard for me to turn off the television. My parents always had the television on and I managed to do well in school, earn a terminal degree, and in many other ways be a successful adult. It was not until I noticed some behaviors in my son that I was unhappy with that I was able to make the change. I noticed violence, I noticed difficulty playing independently, I noticed an ease with picking up inappropriate language, I noticed difficulty with creativity, I noticed a developing fear of scary things, I noticed a sensitivity to the emotions expressed on the television. These behaviors and sensitivities in my own child, drove me to learn more about the impact of television and made it easier to turn off the television when he is awake. I think this is great information for moms and dads, but if you are a mom or dad who struggles to get your spouse to spend evenings playing with the children, know that turning off the television is also a great behavior modification strategy for him or her. He or she may not agree at first, but when he or she sees the positive impact it has on his or her children he or she will support it as well.

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