To Watch or Not to Watch

I've read numerous articles that state that television holds no positive for a developing toddler's brain and may retard development. One of the reasons is that toddlers are not meant to process what they are seeing before the age of 2. However, my toddler is not yet 2 and he has been processing what he sees on screens for a while. He excitedly points to a cow or a sheep or fox or a bus or whatever he recognizes. If he doesn't recognize what is on screen or doesn't understand what is happening he looks at me and asks for an explanation - "this?" and I explain. He then remembers the new objects he has seen (I find the best way to remember something learnt yesterday is to repeat it the next day before we learn anything new).

The main reason that television is not suitable for toddlers, so the argument goes, is that it's a passive activity and leave no room for the imagination. I would certainly agree that it's normally a passive activity and that reading for instance, is much more interactive because you have to visualize what you are reading. However, at this young age, we are reading picture books, so there is no visualization inherent in either activity. Further, I find television to actually be very good for my kid's development. Firstly, not at all screen time is equal. Neither my husband nor I are big television fans and we're certainly not going to allow our toddler to sit in front of a glaring screen to regurgitate its cultural carcass onto our innocent toddler. However, there are plenty of shows and films that are very educational that we see our toddler learning from  (Sesame Street being pride of place) . The number and letter of the day have been a great hit. Dare I admit in public that it was during an episode of Sesame Street that my son first ebulliently  exclaimed  "C!" when it popped on the screen before the puppets had time to pander their daily ware....I guess, I do...Admittedly at times we use television (ie Sesame Street, thus far the only show officially sanctioned by our household) for its passivity. Mostly, however, we enjoy watching with our toddler and walking (well, talking) him through the episodes. Look, a bear! A bear! A mammal, a quadruped - can you say "bear?" You can make television as interactive as picture books. Thank you pause button. My toddler gets agitated, but I like to pause and explain what is going on. At times, we've put on films - he's watched Finding Nemo, Cars, Zootopia and I like to channel his enthusiasm for the characters to learn new things (Zootopia gave us "bunny", "fox" and "sheep" for instance). He's watched a few Bugs Bunny cartoons. I'm not sure of these yet. My concern is the violence. If he sees a violent scene in a cartoon he won't know that this is not correct behaviour. That throwing a rock at someone's head does actually hurt them and can severely injure them. I explain this, but how much is he understanding? The best method is to leave this until he's a little older and fast forward.

Well curated, television can be as educational and as interactive as picture books. Of course, this depends on your's child's development and ability to discern the pictures on screen, with the agreed cut off point being 2. As with all cut off points, to an extent they're arbitrary. You have to draw the line somewhere, and you draw the line for the majority of the population. Take voting for instance. Some 17 year olds may be more politically sophisticated and active than some 54 year olds, but you have to draw the line for the majority. The young voter is not going to be any more sophisticated on the day they turn 18 than they were the day before, but if an election were held the day before their 18th birthday, they would have to miss it. This is the inherent arbitrariness of cut off points, a regrettable necessity. My kid was about 18 months when he started watching shows and he immediately registered what was going on.

I find the biggest problem may be purely physical. Whether it's the TV or an iPad, our eyes perceive screens differently than books. Are we hurting our child's sight? Will he have to wear glasses? For this primary reason, until we leave picture books for more substantive literature, we strictly limit screen time. 


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