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Could television be a good thing for preschoolers?

February 25, 2013

Television is blamed for many problems in children, but could it be part of the solution as well?

It’s been talked about A LOT- our kids are watching too much television, and it affects their impressionable little minds in negative ways. It can affect their ability to concentrate, can make them more aggressive and prone to violence, and can even make them more likely to become overweight or obese. Pediatricians have long advocated less screen time for our kids, yet preschoolers are watching on average four-and-a-half hours of programming per day.

Every time I hear these things, it makes my Mommy-Guilt skyrocket through the roof. My 3-year-old doesn’t watch four-and-a-half hours of TV a day, but I know that she’s watching too much. Somehow, though, it feels nearly impossible to change that. There are times when I need a few moments to myself- either for sanity’s sake or to accomplish something around the house. Or she wakes up at 5:30 a.m., and in order to buy myself a few more minutes of sleep, I let her watch something. And, she truly enjoys it so she asks to watch her favorite shows. I work to limit her TV time, but it never feels like I’m doing enough.

New study says quality not just quantity of television time counts

When I read this new study in Pediatrics, I breathed a little sigh of relief. Not because it solves all of my television dilemmas, but because it made me feel like I’m not completely missing the mark. Until now, pediatricians and media experts have had one basic piece of advice: Limit screen time. But parents (including myself) haven’t been very successful at doing that. This study represents the first of its kind in demonstrating that it’s not just about the QUANTITY of screen time that’s important; it’s the QUALITY, too.

This study compares two groups of children between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. One group continued to watch television normally throughout the study period. In the second group, the types of shows the children watched were altered; violent or age-inappropriate content was exchanged for age-appropriate, educational material. Shows that were preferred in the second group included those that highlighted gender and racial diversity as well as non-violent conflict resolution, problem solving, empathy, manners, and helping others.

No attempt was made to decrease the amount of time children spent watching television; only the content of the shows differed between the groups. After six months, researchers analyzed the social, emotional and functional development of each group. Those who were subjected to more age-appropriate, educational programs scored better than those that watched age-inappropriate, violent material.

What does that mean in the real world?

Kids that watched more educational shows learned how to better cope with their emotions, work together with their peers, cooperate, manifest less anxiety, anger and defiance. These are all characteristics which will increase their success both in the classroom and in life. It means that it’s not just the amount of time a child spends watching television that is important; what they’re watching is important, too. In some ways this study simply confirms what we already knew: children mimic what they see on television.

If it seems impossible to dramatically restrict TV viewing time, all isn’t lost. When viewing the appropriate material, children can learn valuable lessons as they enjoy their favorite shows.

And Mom and Dad can get a bit of a reprieve from the never-ending siege of guilt. It’s a win-win.

If you would like to learn more about which shows are appropriate for your child’s age and the educational nature of a television show or movie, check out this excellent resource: