When it comes to letting our toddlers watch TV, many of us find we are washed over in mama guilt. Are we doing the right thing by allowing our little ones a bit of chill-out time in the form of their favourite show, or are we ruining them for life?
It’s all part and parcel of the parenting puzzle that we piece together day by day. And what makes this aspect of it particularly difficult is that we are walking through virgin territory – with unlimited access to various screens now a part of our unabating digital age.
Is it possible to allow our toddlers some TV entertainment, while also encouraging their development? Let’s take a look...
How much is acceptable?
“In Australia, the Department of Health recommends toddlers have less than one hour of passive screen time in total per day,” explains Dr Kristy Goodwin, a national digital age learning expert and founder of Every Chance to Learn.
“The guidelines are based on an anti-obesity policy which classifies all screen time as a sedentary and non-productive pursuit.
“However, I don’t believe parents need to strictly adhere to these guidelines. Whilst I’m not suggesting a free reign when it comes to toddler screen time, focusing solely on how much screen time is consumed could mean other important aspects may be overlooked.”
According to Dr Goodwin, five ‘Ws’ need to be considered when measuring toddler screen time appropropriateness:
WHAT is being watched: Is the content age-suitable and educational?
WHEN is it being watched: For example, the 90-minute period before naps and bedtime should be kept as screen-free as possible (as screens interfere with sleep patterns and can often result in sleep delays for children).
WITH WHOM is it being watched: Watching with a parent, carer, sibling or peer can help to develop a child’s language skills through interaction.
WHERE is it being watched: Is the screen in a publicly accessible area of the home so you can interact and supervise your child’s use?
WHY a screen is being used: Is the television consistently being activated as a digi-babysitter or pacifier? If so, this can present possible issues for a child’s emotional development as they can learn to rely on screens for emotional regulation.
“Technology is here to stay and we should embrace it,” encourages Dr Karen Phillip, psychotherapist and published international author on parenting (www.karenphillip.com.au).
“Balance is what is vital.”
“The important thing is that screen time does not displace other valid learning experiences that toddlers need for optimal development, such as open-ended play, interaction with peers and family members and physical activity,” Dr Goodwin agrees.
How to monitor it
“If your child is going to watch television, monitoring your toddler’s consumption of it must be a priority,” cautions Chiu Lau, a leading Sydney paediatric psychologist.
“It’s very important to enforce limits to encourage a healthy relationship with technology, and to plant the seeds for a positive media habit,” adds Dr Goodwin.
Ideas to help do this can include specifying a number of TV episodes your toddler is allowed to watch (this is much less abstract than specifying an amount of time, which toddlers can find hard to understand). For example, allowing her to view one episode of Playschool but warning her that the television then needs to be turned off (by her) straight afterwards.
If you’re going to allow her to watch more than one show, you might consider using tokens (they can be as simple as coloured paddle pop sticks).
Your child can then add a token to a clear jar or bowl after each episode so that she understands what number she is up to watching.
Again, this will place the onus on her and encourage limits.