Li’l Musings – Turn OFF that TV to Tune in to your child

(This blog is submitted by Mr. George Mathew, who is the CEO of a new-age preschool chain based at Trivandrum called “The Wonder Years Preschool”. The author is a researcher on child development and can be contacted at For more details, please visit

Vishal appeared tired and his eyes sunken. It was rather obvious he was troubled. His parents and grandparents constantly complained of his persistent negligence in studies, carelessness and diffident attitude.

As per his mother, Vishal spent most of his time in front of the TV. His friends were the characters that appeared in the cartoon channel. He behaved, spoke and acted like them. He ate, slept and breathed them every minute of his waking hours. Every school item was pasted with stickers and figures of these cartoon characters. It was something beyond addiction; it was obsession.

At an age when he ought to be talking about his classmates and friends, he spoke only about Ben-10 or Pokemon. At school he spoke only to those classmates who shared the common interest in terms of cartoon characters. Evidently, Vishal did not have any real friends. He only had virtual friends.

The situation is grim, and something that requires immediate attention. Vishal’s case is not unique. Sadly, we notice this story being played out over and over again all around us.

Is your child a member of virtual family?

Some parents seem to think that these tendencies will change over time while others accept it as a byproduct of the cultural and technological revolution our generations are going through. While urbanization and globalization taught us to limit ourselves to our own nuclear families, to become alone even in a crowd, are we not teaching our children to develop stereotyped virtual relationships with these cartoon characters from television?

10 to 15 years back we were not exposed to much of television. The biggest perceived problem back then was that sitting too close to the monitor would affect the vision. But today’s multimedia world makes the problem a lot more complex. It not only involves issues with visual acuity, but a range of behavioral problems stemming from over exposure to T.V. The series of behavioral problems include attention deficit, intolerance to real life situations, abnormal expectations from the friends etc.

The carefree moments that our children ought to be spending in sharing their lives with their friends, they live in an artificial world where their real life friends are aliens. The result is shrinkage of social-self and a lack of maturity in human emotions to meet the challenges of the world.

Does over exposure to TV produce attention deficit?

Excessive TV viewing can trigger many socio-psychological problems in the children. Children exposed to too much of TV in the early years might not develop the basic social skills required to survive and thrive in the complex world of multiple human characters. Such children can develop emotional blunting due to lower interaction with real people who exhibit a lot many more emotional and physical realms than cartoon characters.

The study reported by Dimitri Christakis, a pediatric researcher at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, suggests that TV viewing in very young children contributes to attention problems later in life. According to the study “Each hour of television watched per day at ages 1 through 3 increases the risk of attention problems by almost 10 percent at age 7. This results suggest that those children who watched at least three hours of television per day were 30% more likely to have attention problems at age seven, compared to those who did not watch television at an early age.”

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by the inability to focus, listen, and complete tasks and schoolwork at hand. Kids with ADHD act without thinking, are hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what’s expected of them but have trouble following through because they can’t sit still, pay attention, or attend to details. All kids especially younger ones exhibit a number of fidgety behaviors, particularly when they’re anxious or excited. But the difference with ADHD is that symptoms are present over a longer period of time and occur in different settings. This cognitive dysfunction can inhibit the intellectual development of the child thus impairing a child’s ability to function normal in the social, emotional and academic spheres of life.

Brain changes associated with TV viewing

The first 2 years of a child’s life are considered a critical time for brain development. Through exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others, the child becomes a part of the large social world. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents should not allow children under the age of two to watch any TV, while viewing should be strictly restricted to two hours per day those over the age of two.

One of the biggest problems with TV is that it can over stimulate and excite the brain. It has been found that the more TV children watch, the more likely it is for them to be impulsive, restless and have difficulty in concentrating. The reason for this is that unlike normal life where actions and events have continuity, TV is fast paced and the time spans are greatly sped up. The rapid scene shifts observed in the TV is not natural. Exposing a baby to such sudden and unnatural shifts can cause changes in the neuronal connections being formed.

When the scenes flash swiftly across the screen, the brain works hard to comprehend them. Because the temporal sequencing is so unlike real life or real time, the viewer is focused but not actually concentrating or comprehending. This phenomenon can lead on to develop a state of child’s impatience towards the impossibly slow real world compared to the artificial world created by the television. Scientists tell us that the brain develops in completely unique ways between birth and three years through the use of integrative functions of all sensory systems. As a baby sits “mesmerized” in front of the TV, neural paths are just not being created.

This early over-exposure to electronic media can hinder normal social emotional development in a child. As kids get older, too much screen time can interfere with activities such as being physically active, reading, doing homework, playing with friends, and spending time with family.

Most parents encourage TV viewing thinking that their children are gaining knowledge. Unless the programming is well thought through and designed to help your baby gain knowledge, this is not necessarily true. In most cases, programming is not designed to give the necessary and correct information to the child.

TV viewing and social behavior

Children who view violent acts on TV are more likely to show aggressive behavior. There are tendencies that these children imagine the world as scary and presume evilness to happen in their life. This leads to a situation where the children feel insecure and unsure about any new experience in life. This leads to a situation where the children will be scared and suspicious about new experiences that could affect the overall development of the child since he/she will not be able to assimilate the new experience in a way that will be useful to the child.
In TV, the “good guys” perpetrate many of the violent acts. These “Heroes”, who kids have been taught to emulate, paint a very different picture from what parents try to teach children. Even though the parents teach that it’s not right to hit, television says it’s OK to hit, or kick as a nature of good guy. This can lead to confusion when children learn to understand the difference between right and wrong.

Cultivate good TV habits

As mentioned before, the best possible solution is not to allow children under the age of two to watch any TV and viewing should be strictly restricted to two hours per day for those over the age of two. It will also be prudent to follow a few habits that will ensure that your child is not smothered by too much TV.

TV is NOT a family member:
Mealtime should be family time, especially dinner. This is the one meal where the entire family can sit together, discuss events and have a fun time. This interaction is crucial for the psychological development of the child.

TV time should be a privilege that is earned: Establish and enforce family TV viewing rules, such as TV is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.

Work while you work, watch while you watch:
Many times, parents would be watching their favorite programs on TV during the study time. What goes un-noticed is that children, instead of concentrating on schoolwork, spend their time listening in and watching the TV program. And if the child is “caught” catching a glimpse of the program, he is given a quick show down. But think of the child who is interested to explore the world suggests that the child is not to be blamed. It should be the parent’s responsibility to switch off the TV during study time. For most children, parents are their role models. So parents should be inculcating good TV viewing habits by setting an example of themselves.

Limit- a good start:
Schoolwork, sports activities, and job responsibilities make it tough to find extra family time during the week. Record weekday shows or save TV time for weekends and you’ll have more family togetherness time to spend on meals, games, physical activity, and reading during the week. Set a good example by limiting your own TV viewing. Select quality programs for viewing.

Provide unique alternatives:

Along with limiting TV viewing hours, stock the room in which you have your TV with plenty of other non-screen entertainment such as books, kids’ magazines, toys, puzzles, board games, etc. The possibilities for fun without the tube are endless so turn off the TV and enjoy the quality time together through game, start a game of hide and seek, play outside, read, work on crafts or hobbies, or listen and dance to music.
Take time to get organized: Select programs your family can watch together (i.e., developmentally appropriate and nonviolent programs that reinforce your family’s values). Choose shows that foster interest and learning in hobbies and education (reading, science, etc.). Preview programs before your kids watch them. Then, post the schedule in a visible area (e.g., on the refrigerator) so that everyone knows which programs are OK to watch and when. And make sure to turn off the TV when the “scheduled” program is ended.

Watch TV together
If you do decide to allow TV viewing make sure you do it together. If you can’t sit through the whole program, at least watch the first few minutes to assess the tone and appropriateness, then check in throughout the show.
Lock down that channel: More often than not, there is a limit to how much a parent of guardian can control the viewing time of the child. Most children clandestinely view their favorite channels when parents are away. This is even worse because for fear of getting caught, they turn down the volume and sit as close to the TV as possible leading to additional vision related problems. Most TVs and DTH boxes nowadays come with facility to lock down individual channels and even set timings when they are open. Make best use of this facility.

Talk to kids about what they see on TV and share your own beliefs and values. If you don’t talk to your children about the programming on TV, someone else will (or they will form their own opinions/conclusions about something they see). Engage with them on a conversation on what they see on TV. Use it as an opportunity to ask thought-provoking questions such as, “Is it OK for people to resolve issues through violence or war?” Or, “Is it Ok for girls and boys to be out at night for longer than needed?” If certain people are mistreated or discriminated against, talk about why it’s important to treat everyone fairly, despite their differences. You can use TV to explain confusing situations and express your feelings about difficult topics depending on the age of the child and what you think is appropriate for them to know at their present age on sex, love, drugs, alcohol, smoking, work, behavior, family life etc.

The information that comes through TV gives us a multisensory stimulation. The visual and auditory sensory channels get equally stimulated during TV viewing. This makes for easy processing of information for the viewer.

However, when information comes readymade, easy to wear and easy to handle, creativity in thinking and learning disappears. Qualities such as aspiration and perspiration for continuous success may not develop in its natural form. Children should be provided with opportunities to realize their capabilities along with the information poured in through TV. In essence, the knowledge gained through TV will get stagnant if children are not taught to channelize it properly.

TV does have its benefits. But early exposure to too much TV can cause devastating brain development problems. As parents we should take the higher ground here and for the sake of our children and their development, Turn OFF that TV to Tune into your child and his/her wonderful life

(This blog is submitted by Mr. George Mathew, who is the CEO of a new-age preschool chain based at Trivandrum called “The Wonder Years Preschool”. The author is a researcher on child development and can be contacted at For more details, please visit