Who else is guilty of using the TV as a babysitter? I’ll admit, over the last year, the TV has been on a lot, and my two year old is an iPhone pro. We’ve used to to pacify her in a restaurant when she became too cranky, in the car when she wanted to get out, and pretty much any other time of the day when she would ask for it.
I’m being completely honest when I say the last 5 months had been hell. Her temper tantrums were rampant. Nothing interested her other than snacks and TV. Sophia the First & Octonauts became her BFF’s. I felt insecure when I saw my other friends’ kids doing things, like, coloring, playing with dolls, and building legos. Even though she is outdoors for a minimum of 3 hours a day, I would try every day to get her interested in something fun like an art or science project, and it was usually met with 60 seconds of interest, followed by 30 minutes of defiance, crying, and purposeful naughty behavior. I convinced myself that my child was just going through her terrible 2 phase & that this would pass. She wouldn’t always act like this, and she would eventually get to the point where she wanted to do something imaginative indoors.
In the beginning of December, after increasingly concerning behavior regarding her attention span, I sought out advice from some other mom friends & asked questions like, “Is your toddler interested in toys? Do they play and entertain themselves? Are they interested in crafts & other fun sensory things?” Some of their answers were yes, some were no. I was ashamed to admit that my 2 1/2 year old had absolutely no interest in doing most of these.
After a horrible 2 weeks of some of the worst temper tantrums and crying fits our household had ever seen, a lightbulb went off. We had attempted several fun holiday outings that most children would be delighted to get to do. We went to see Christmas lights, made s’mores, and hung Christmas decorations. All of these things should be super fun for a toddler. Not for her. She put on a spectacular show of defiance & made sure nobody had any fun at any point. It was there in the car, listening to her crying & screaming in the backseat over christmas music on the radio that my husband and I began to talk about this behavior she’d been displaying over the past few months. We went over her diet and routine a bit before realizing a correlation between the behavior and days she watched the most TV, or when she’d watch TV first thing in the morning. It quickly became apparent that the television had taken our sweet, intelligent, fun little girl hostage & was holding her there in Disney Jr. land until we demanded her back.
At that point, my husband and I decided we were ditching the TV and phones, effective immediately. I started doing some research on toddlers & what science is saying about the impact of TV on their little brains. In short, toddlers are supposed to be highly sensory, imaginative, curious, and job oriented. Think of their brain as a spark plug. The second they spark it with something imaginative such as building lego’s, the brain ignites & the imagination quickly leads to other things. This is why a healthy toddler can go into a room full of toys, start playing with something, and then pick up another toy and incorporate it into their play. The imagination is like wildfire for them.
The television stunts this process. When a toddler stares at a TV screen for too long, all of these wonderful sparks of imagination come to a complete halt. It causes them to be irritable, confused, angry, unsatisfiable, sleepless, etc. I witnessed literally all of these in my own offspring. When she was at the height of her TV watching, it was only for collectively 1 1/2-2 hours a day. This was enough to send her into an induced state of attention deficit. She never wanted to entertain herself, play with her toys, or do any fun crafts with me…and may I note that this is a kid who goes to the park or some other outdoor activity for 3 hours a day, nearly every day. It doesn’t matter how much outdoor time your kid gets, the TV cancels it out.
I hear parents say things like, “The tv is so educational these days, it’s good for them.” This is a lie, people. The TV shuts off every avenue of true cognitive learning for a toddler. You have more of an ability to teach your kid something in 60 seconds than the TV has in an hour.
When the TV was no longer used as a source of entertainment for her, in two days time, after many tantrums, I saw a miraculous change. For the first time in her entire 2 1/2 years of existence, my sweet little angel woke up, went straight into her playroom, and started playing with her toys without asking to watch TV, not even once. I saw her pick up a doll & put it in the dollhouse and play with it. She then went over to her play kitchen & started cooking breakfast for me. She started talking more. She started spending over 30 minutes at a time with her toys. Instead of becoming disinterested in an art project after 2 minutes, she now sits for 15 minutes. She asks for her coloring book & colors. She draws me pictures. These are all simple things toddlers should be doing that mine wasn’t doing before. She is now.
I’m not ashamed of this process. Being a parent means learning through trial and error. I knew the TV wasn’t great for her, but I didn’t realize how much pain and suffering I was causing MYSELF by letting her watch so much. As parents, we think the TV makes our lives easier, and sometimes it does…for a minute. But, the after-effects from it can be catastrophic & cause a major strain in the parent-child relationship. I saw this first hand.
You can undo the temporary attention deficit behavior by simply turning off the TV. I recommend shutting it off cold turkey for one week before even letting them watch at all, later, when they aren’t dependent on it anymore.
Watching TV now is a treat for my daughter, and she is completely aware of it. It is only used when she is sick, and on some nights when it’s late and we have 30 minutes before bed, she asks for “one episode”…because she knows she’s only allowed to watch for a short period of time at the end of the day when she’s played hard. I have seen a significant decrease in temper tantrums. I now have a toddler who has the appropriate attention span for her age. She still does all of the little toddler things that are completely annoying yet totally acceptable for her age, but I no longer see that rearing dragon that is only summoned by excessive TV watching.
I understand that sometimes you need the TV on for 30 minutes while you get that important thing done. The goal is to be able to have your toddler play and entertain himself while you do that, without the TV being on. We are nearly there, and it feels good.
Here are some interesting facts from articles written about this very subject:
- “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” series, researchers find that these products may be doing more harm than good. And they may actually delay language development in toddlers.
- Every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos.
- Babies learn faster and better from a native speaker of a language when they are interacting with that speaker instead of watching the same speaker talk on a video screen. “Even watching a live person speak to you via television is not the same thing as having that person in front of you,” says Christakis.
- The more television children watch, the shorter their attention spans later in life. “Their minds come to expect a high level of stimulation, and view that as normal,” says Christakis, “and by comparison, reality is boring.”
- “The evidence is suggesting that there’s a whole syndrome of different outcomes related to television viewing, ranging from attention and learning problems to problems related to obesity, aggression, and sleep problems,” he says.
- Youths who watched three or more hours of television a day were twice as likely to develop attention difficulties than those who watched less than one hour.
- “For every hour of television toddlers watch a day, they are ten percent more likely to develop attention problems at school,”
- Some activities, such as reading together, going to museums, and singing help support a child’s brain development in these critical years, watching television can have the opposite effect.
And here, the most impactful of all the words on this page, the reason why TV causes ADD and ADHD like behavior is because:
“The reason? Most television programming, even some of the educational variety, features quick edits, flashing images and rapid sequences, as opposed to the slower pace of “real life.” “Our attention is broken up because we biologically have a tendency to shift our attention to changing stimuli, so television tends to take advantage of that,” says Johnson. In other words, the rapid pace plays off our instincts to track fast movements, and serves to “hook us” into the program. “But if viewers get dependent on these rapid changes,”says Johnson, “when they turn their attention to something else, like reading a book, their brain might have difficulty staying focused.” Christakis observed a similar tendency in his study of young children. After prolonged exposure to television, which conditions the mind to expect rapid-fire stimulation, he says that “in contrast, reality is boring.”
What do you make of all of this? Please share your insights and experiences in the comments!