DO watch with your kids
The truth is, often the whole point of television is that it keeps our kids occupied while we do something else. Monica McMahon, of Mountain View, California, relies on TV, as do many parents, in the morning so that she can get herself and her 1-1/2- and 2-1/2-year-olds ready for their day, and again in the evening, so she can prepare dinner. "I'm using it as a distraction," she says, "and I feel guilty sometimes because I feel like I am not interacting with the kids as much." For Ghazarian, who just had a second baby and moved homes, television has been indispensable lately for her older child: "When I was pregnant, it was a chance for me to rest, and then we were packing boxes, and now Nyrie watches in the early morning so I can sleep a little with the new baby."
We all use the electronic babysitter occasionally, and there's nothing criminal in that. But experts have found that although television doesn't decrease the time that kids spend reading or running around, it does cut into time spent interacting with parents and caregivers. And having social time with people who love them is essential for kids' development in early childhood.
"Television can get in the way of the attention the parent can give to the child," Pasnik says, "but it doesn't have to. It can be a story starter." Turns out the educational value of television shoots up when parents watch with their kids, so keep an eye or an ear on the TV when you can, add some context, describe what you see, and ask for their thoughts. "The more you can talk to them about it," Pasnik adds, "the more they are going to get from that experience."
At the end of the day, more important than the specific dos and don'ts is this guiding principle: TV should be just one small part of your child's day. That day should also be rich with physical exercise, reading time, unstructured play, and lots of special time with you or other loved ones. As in all other matters, moderation makes a pretty good motto.