A witty boy who resembles a rectangular kitchen sponge is a fry cook at a fast-food joint. He is a friendly guy who wishes goodness for his friends and neighbors. He takes his job very seriously and aims to receive a license to drive an automobile in the dreamy city of bikini bottom. Readers, no prizes for guessing here. I am referring to one of the most enjoyed and awarded kiddie TV show “Spongebob Squarepants” which made the broadcasting channel Nickelodeon sit on the highest viewed channel throne. 20 years and running, the show hasn't lost its popularity and kids, they adore this ‘fluorescent yellow pal’! Repeated episodes, dubbed cartoons saving the world or Thomas the grey train taking a 25th track turn in a day, as a parent you so wish to turn off the television and let some peace sink in. But hey, kids aren’t complaining. In fact, they will view the rerunning episode with the same enthusiasm, be it PAW Patrol’s 6th similar mission to rescue the cat on the tree or Peppa Pig telling you why swimming is better 106th time. No one dares to touch the remote, and it’s all good in the hood. Questions about electronics and child development, how much is too much screen time for kids, and screen time and behaviour problems are on the rise.
Stacy, mum of two boys admits that she has given up on this TV battle. She adds, both her boys have distinct personalities and choices. Elder one prefers sports and the younger one claims that “how he wished he had a home in Disneyland just like that clothes mouse does”. My television survives the daily remote fights and witnesses the sibling rivalry patiently and mutely because it can’t speak.
Okay, once you introduce a child to this technicolor entertainment unit AKA idiot box, there is never looking back for this bond, period. Kids and TV is an inseparable combo. Remember the “home alone” boy, Kevin McAllister proudly admitting in a scene that TV is his life. Surely, he wasn’t making a tall statement here.
Kids are glued to the TV for long hours and you wonder how on earth he or she is not tired? And in their growing up years, they tend to get possessive over this tussle of “TV ruling” and refuse to listen, no matter the ultimatums like “I am plugging off the TV or I am blocking this channel”. Why because, Mommies, they very well know that these are hollow talks, otherwise how will you watch the famous soap opera?
As a parent, you have “TV” questions and dilemmas like is screen time bad for kids, is this cartoon content appropriate for 5 yr old or the open promotion of kissing in a teen drama is OK on-screen? You end up getting tensed, agitated over the fact that, you don’t have control over the broadcast content and kids will roll on the floor with a hissy fit if you put off the TV in the middle of the cartoon episode.
Now technology should be included as a part of a healthy, curious childhood by making sure that you don’t let the strings too loose. Toddlers can learn a lot with shows where alphabets, rhymes are thought in an interesting visual way, similarly, young kids and teens can explore a lot through shows focusing on science, nature and curiosity enriched content.
But when there is too much screen time for toddlers and kids (more than 2 hrs), then it’s safe to say that, you are raising TV addicts, and eliminating screen time might become a need.
TVs and a negative toll
Eating, doing homework or playing indoor games, kids today need this screen companion in the background, no kidding...but the entire day. Some shows even help to make babies and toddlers sleep by singing lullabies too. (Admit it, mommies, you are secretly thankful for that zzz lullaby). Needless to say, the negative effects of TV outnumber the positive ones. You need to identify too much screen time symptoms in your kids and know about the effects of screen time on children. Some of the common adverse effects are listed below:
- Kids who don’t move away from the TV for more than 4 hrs are certified “couch potatoes” and are most likely to be overweight or obese.
- Viewing the TV screen for longer hours gives them an “unwanted accessory” called glasses due to vision problems.
- Their social skills take a huge toll with the thought process of, it’s better to sit at home and befriend Spongebob than make real friends in the neighborhood, so much of a task!
- The violent content in movies, web-series is not teaching them to be brave and ready to face the real world with tricks like a fictional character comes up with, in fact, it’s quite the opposite in reality. Kids start to live with the notion that the world is a scary place and they will be prey to some unfortunate events just like shown in an episode. There are concerns on how too much screen time risks children’s mental health.
- Fictional characters are often shown projecting inappropriate lifestyle (smoking, drinking, living-in), gender and racial discrimination which generally makes kids follow the suit of their screen idol.
- Television can make the kids “brand babies”. Glossy commercials make them super enamored with branded clothing, food joints, and lifestyle "non-essentials". It’s either “this brands camouflage backpack” or ``I am not going camping.
Not all negative, TV has a positive side too
Now, it’s not wise to blame everything on TV. It’s not really that bad. If you know which programs to switch on to, TV can then become a good teaching unit too. Read below to find out the positive side of the idiot box:
- Toddlers and young kids can learn a lot with education cum fun show where learning alphabets, numbers, singing and dancing is promoted. You can enjoy this together and ask questions like what did you like about today’s episode? Isn’t Dora the explorer bravest? You know something conversational.
- Most of the TV channels do promote creativity and curiosity enriched programs like art and craft, math, science, history, etc. Exposing the kids to such learning is a sure boon in parenting goals.
- TV shows extensively promote sports and other physical activities like yoga, meditation, which can make them understand about a particular type of sports never heard before. Even mind enriched games like chess, Sudoku tricks can be learned with expert shows on TV.
- Now, as per the common saying, books allow you to see the world, without moving an inch from the place. The TV also holds a similar specialty. Many lifestyle and travel shows expose you to different cultures, cuisines, traditions, etc. Enjoy such shows together; who knows you might make the next summer plan to visit the place, inspired by the episode?
- Many history channel shows are doing a wonderful job of exploring by-gone stories and incidents unheard before. In such cases, it is all right to be glued to the sofa if the program length is beyond an hour. With so much to get inspired by scientists, artists, and historians, why only kids, even you can get motivated and follow the success path in life
From Idiot box to smart unit
Be a smart parent and take charge of that remote control. Let the television be a positive, fun influence and not a fictional spoilt box decorating that wooden unit.
Take a cue from these smart hacks:
- This first rule applies to parents of young kids. They use TV as a go-to armor for fuzz-free parenting. Entertaining babies and toddlers with cartoon show while feeding them becomes a permanent habit. And then you wonder why she won’t eat that pumpkin puree without a dose of “Dora the Explorer”?
- Don’t make TV as your by-default prop to entertain kids especially when you are busy. Chances are that they might get accidentally exposed to content which is not suitable for them.
- Do some research beforehand to get to know the shows better. If you feel any content is sending a message not so kid-friendly (age, dialogues, story-wise), say no to the same, quite firmly.
- Limit TV hours. How much screen time for kids is a question that parents often ask. Make it a house rule of “No TV for more than 2 hours”. You can tell the kids to choose the time slot (preferably after their meal, homework) and stick to the rule of “I refuse to be a couch potato”.
- Favorite comedy opera? It can wait or catch a repeat on weekends. But say No to the TV during mealtimes. As a family, there is a lot to catch up on than viewing those predictable twists and turns on the TV.
- If you set strict TV hrs during weekdays, then keep the weekends exceptional. Let them catch up on noon shows while doing some fun activities like painting, clay modeling or even helping you set the table.You can shape your children’s screen time positively in these ways.
- Make the TV shows an interacting pool between you and kids. You can extend the conversation with questions like, what do you like about a show, why that character is your favorite, etc. This way you will increase the interactive bond and kids will feel encouraged over the fact that as a parent you are interested in his or her personal choices.
Chances are, your young boy will be all excited and peppy to narrate the episode you missed out due to work commitments. Talk about bonding over TV!!