TV, screen time, and the preschool mind

Ninja Turtles are on the rise! Here comes Spiderman! Rah!! But I’m Princess Jasmine!

“I’m gona chop your head off!”

I’ve been working with young children for over twenty years. Children play imaginatively, given the time and quiet to do so. Their play is an expression of what they have been exposed to in their lives. Three, four and five year olds are learning what it means to be a boy or a girl, and the identification process is a main theme in their lives. They are sorting it all out, all the millions of pieces of input that their brains absorb like sponges from everything they see and  hear. This means boy, this means girl.  We see it in their play, and everything that  they are exposed to  becomes part of the core of their very being.

Children today are exposed to a lot of screen time. In a restaurant waiting for the food, we used to talk and make jokes, color, play writing games, read  or tell stories . We used to sing in the car and count license plates or just look out the window and be bored and think or talk. Many of these moments have been replaced with screen time They are so fun, even educational sometimes, who could argue with that? But we teachers see the difference in their vocabulary, in their social interactions, in their pencil grasps. Will the children of the future even need pencil grasps? I’m not sure about that the way things are going, but we will continue to teach it!

We all probably are guilty of letting our children have too much screen time.  It can give us a break and parenting is the hardest job on earth. Especially now with too much information, and lack of extended family support. There were times when my three children were little that I could not have gotten dinner on the table without putting on a video. A  little sanity goes a long way especially during a long, cranky afternoon. Which brings us to the question, so what do I look for in good programming for my little one?

Firstly remember they do not know the difference between real and fantasy until at least 7 years old often it is still confusing after that. Even I can’t even tell what is real or not anymore on tv- my grown kids sometimes  clue me in, ( wow look at that shark! Mom that is CG,computer generated!  It is? yes Mom, as they roll their eyes – again.)   Montessori philosophy gives us the  guideline of offering the young child until the age of 7 only the beauty in the world, later start introducing the not so beautiful realities of our world. This starts them out with a positive and appreciative outlook.

Secondly, children are little sponges and copy everything. Especially as they are in the identification process learning what it is to be a girl or a boy, and a member of their culture. They copy language and  they copy social interactions- even if it is “just” a cartoon. Listen to the way the characters speak to each other, are they respectful? Polite? Nice to each other? How do they solve their conflicts? How is their tone of voice? Listen carefully because this is what you will hear from your preschooler in their interactions as their absorb their environment and emulate it. Do the characters children whine and get their way? Is the husband/father bossed around by his wife? Are the parents loving towards their children and each other? Do the friends help each other or plot against  and exclude one another? What sense of humor is demonstrated?  Is it  funny if someone slips on a banana peel, or makes fun of another person?  They are learning what is funny in this culture and what is accepted and “normal”.

These are your children’s role models. “Do as I say not as I do ” just doesn’t work for young kids. Every person they meet and  every cartoon character is helping to form the personality and values of your child and creating an adult.  This adult child will be the future of the world and your future  family that you will live with the rest of your life . Take the time to screen their screen time 🙂


Tips  for  screen time and books:

Visual images, not the words or story just the images — are the pictures crazy? peaceful? violent?realistic? beautiful?  Some children’s books and  programs have some awful or confusing visual  images for kids to absorb.

Language modeling—is the language spoken slowly and enunciated properly? Are the voices soothing or crazy making? Are you enriching your child’s vocabulary?

Violence and harsh realities~ Do you want to see your child acting out, if even just in their play, the behaviors they are being role modeled ? Even if your child says they are not scared, they are. They are either scared or desensitized and I’m not sure which is worse for a young child, but I believe the latter. Even  shows and books meant for kids are sometimes very scary and have  themes that are much too advanced for a preschooler to understand.  So how do they process this information?  Watch with your children and discuss  with them to try  find out what they are taking in, but usually they cannot verbalize how it really  is for them to take in confusing or violent images. Look  for modeling of  appropriate emotions like empathy, caring, positive problem solving with words and conversation. Remember that developmentally, young children do NOT know the difference between fantasy and reality.

Stereotypes– Are the male and females both  strong and smart? Are the bad guys always dark or have mustaches?  Are the blondes dumb? Are the old people respected?  Are cultural differences appreciated? Think of what personal  values you would like to contribute to our world through your children.

Are they learning something? There are so many wonderful reality based shows and books. Firefighters, how things work or are built, construction vehicles, nature shows, Sesame Street and Mr Rogers are classics and remain some of the best programming for children available.