Parents have often turned to the television to help their little ones unwind after pre-school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 43 per cent of children under the age of two watch television every day. The study also revealed that 74 per cent of all infants and toddlers have watched television before the age of two. Child behaviour expert and parenting coach Livvy Gormally has had plenty of experience working with children with particularly challenging behaviours. The professional spoke exclusively to HELLO! Online to share her advice regarding children and screen time.
At what age do you recommend introducing a child to TV? I've heard that it can be educational for babies as they see colours and hear sounds?
All children respond in different ways to TV and screens so this, together with parental choice, should be the guide. Your baby may enjoy the bright colours, shapes, movements and sounds on Baby TV, but you may want to avoid this type of visual or auditory stimulation just before you want them to take a nap. Whereas, if your toddler is exhausted from pre-school and needs to chill while you make lunch, an episode or two of their favourite programme may help them unwind but stay stimulated enough not to fall asleep! If you are experiencing challenging behaviours such as reduced focus or listening, difficulties transitioning etc. during or after TV or screen time, it is important to adapt your rules accordingly. Monitoring TV and screen time and the effects it has on children allows parents to set realistic and age appropriate TV and screen time rules that work for their families.
How much TV should a baby/toddler watch a day?
In my opinion, a regulated amount of TV or screen time is ok for most children. The amount of TV or screen time remains a very personal parenting choice. Children can respond very differently to TV and screen time and this should be reflected in how much TV or screen time your kids have - getting the balance right for your family is most important thing. I think that most parents try really hard to expose their kids to a broad range of activities each day and often feel guilty that TV or screen time makes up part of this diet. TV and screens are very much part of our lives and so our rules and attitudes towards TV and screens need to adapt to reflect this.
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And what do you think about letting children play with phones and watch programmes on them at home and in the car?
Again, I would say that a regulated amount of TV or screen time is ok for most children. It can be a fun way to play and occupy their time. Many TV programmes and apps have educational content (such as the Toddler Fun Learning app) and can be an interesting and motivating way for many kids to learn. I do not think that TV or screens should replace 1:1 interactions and strongly believe that exposure to all types of play and learning is essential for our kids’ development.
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Do you consider this lazy parenting? What alternatives are there?
No, I do not think that allowing some TV or screen time is lazy parenting. TV programmes and screens can be fun and can also offer kids an opportunity to occupy themselves, play independently, learn, or to just sit and chill. At times, TV or screens can also be a useful for parents, giving them a few minutes to get jobs done or to chill too. TV and screen time does not need to be a solitary activity - discussing programmes, talking about how and what they are playing can be a great way to interact with your kids.
In terms of alternatives, kids love to hear about and play the games their parents played when they were younger - teaching games you enjoyed is a great way for the family to play and interact together.