Current data points to a negative effect of mass consumption of video and television programmes for children in the early years of life. These negative effects are noted in the child’s development of language, intelligence and above all in their attention levels. Older children and adolescents are influenced negatively in especially important areas like school performance, language, paying attention, sleep and showing aggressive behaviour.
These negative effects may be the result of several factors:
- Media devices over stimulate a child’s vision and hearing, for example loud sounds, quick screen changes, bright and flashing lights, etc.At this stage, a child’s central nervous system is still forming and this over stimulation affects and interferes in its balanced development.
- The time spent using media devices deprives children of other types of activities including interactive games with adults. In the first few years of life, a child develops their capacity for reasoning, language, planning, organising and decision making through play that is adapted to their age and maturity level. It also stimulates curiosity, creativity and trust in addition to helping form an emotional bond between children and their parents.
- Values are often related to the content seen on television and on media devices. Although values are more often than not based on family life, it is important to keep in mind what kind of content children are seeing and how it effects their development.The data shows that when it comes to content on media devices, programs that are violent and have a lot of action create over stimulation and are especially detrimental. These negative effects are more harmful when a child watches them alone and passively.
- Media devices do not offer a real concept of time and space which influences their development. Although at first this does not seem very important, it is actually key for children’s development. For example, when children learn to read and write, this is related to spatial orientation. Tablets and smart phones are the most harmful as children are able to manage the timing of turning it off, turning it on, to move the screen backward or forward, etc. This is more digital than real and increases their need for things to be immediate.
So, should children use media devices or watch television at all?
The AAP’s (American Academy of Paediatrics) stance is firm: avoid exposing them to screens (television, mobile phones, tablets, computers, etc.) before 2 years of age. A child’s mind develops quickly during those first years and children learn more from their interactions with other adults.
After 2 years of age, television programmes or interactive content that is age-appropriate and designed with education in mind can be beneficial. For children that are older, it is recommended to create times and zones that are screen free and media use should be limited to only two hours (each hour separately). Media use for children should always be high-quality content that is age-appropriate. Experts also recommend that screens be taken out of children’s bedrooms and designate media free times such as during meals. Most importantly, activities likes reading books, playing and doing exercise should not be replaced by hours in front of a media device.