Watching TV with my daughter

I love how she wakes up in the morning these days. She has learned to self entertain so after waking up she finds something to keep her busy, which means I have a few more minutes to catch up with sleep (more like 7 minutes). Then she will start kicking the cot bumper and it is that thump that usually wakes me up. The moment she looks at my face, she gives me a beautiful smile and stretches her hands which makes me forget all my problems (only for a few seconds though). We then go to the kitchen for her daily dose of thyroxine. A  few minutes later we are ready for breakfast and our daily little fights start again. Lately she has become completely invested in baby TV and adverts that it is almost unthinkable for her to take meals or have her diaper changed without the TV on. So after offering a few spoons with her refusing to open her mouth, I give up and turn on the TV, she then opens her mouth gladly.

It started when she was much smaller, I would turn on the TV for her when I needed a break or when she is fussy. At first, she would get bored after a few minutes and start demanding for attention but she now watches TV (phones and tablets included) for 30 – 60 minutes in a day on average. Whenever the TV is on a show that she likes, her body becomes still, her eyes blink only when necessary, her mouth is half-open and her drool trickles down her chest. I am mostly okay with these but I don’t like the blank look on her face which makes me think that it is not good for her.

Most studies done on infants and toddlers watching TV say that it is absolutely unnecessary because it has a significant effect on their brain development because they are not capable of processing the images they see until they are at least 18 months old. Screen time for infants and toddlers is believed to cause language delay, sleep interruption and lack of attention among other things. But a few studies also say that children tailored programs on TV can help in early brain development as long as the screen time is limited and parents are watching the programs with the children.

When to introduce TV

The American Academy of pediatrics (AAP) along with a number of studies, strictly advises against any screen time for children under 2 years of age. Various researches suggest that it is quite harmful with long-lasting effect on their language and social development, sleeping pattern and attention span. These problems are more pronounced as the child spends more time in front of the TV alone especially for children below 18 months as their mind cannot understand how what they see on the TV relates with the real world.

As a result, the AAP encourages parents to avoid TV for children below 18 months but children 15 – 18 months can benefit from co-watching educational TV programs but must strictly be for an hour at most. For children above 2 years of age, great care must be taken in selecting content and how they watch it. Obesity and behavioral problems are the most common problems toddlers and young adults develop if their media usage is not monitored.

However reserved you may be to introduce TV to your children, it is obvious that children learn better from you than any educational TV program. Hence, keep screen time as minimum as possible, co-watch together to keep them connected, and find other activities to do together to keep their mind and bodies active and healthy.

I am yet to see the effect it has on her language skills but it has not affected her sleep or attention so far. But one important point I have observed is that when we sit together to watch and I sing along to the show and keep her engaged with me and the show, she is very responsive and happy when she sees characters she likes. That dull look comes when she is only absorbing what the TV is giving her, my presence and engagement gives her the two-way interaction.

So since I have accepted that she loves watching her baby shows, I have stopped fighting her and focus on limiting the time she spends on the screen as well as making sure it has appropriate content. Therefore, I look for shows with fun and educational content that represents the diversified society she lives with now. It can be mind-boggling for an adult to watch a postman who always displaces addresses and has to ask animals for directions so he can deliver the packages (Is that teaching Inefficiency or how to ask for directions?) but I believe it is important to sit and do the things they like together.

This first appeared on The Standard on 30th July 2017
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