In past years, media and technology use has steadily gained ground and, along with the Internet, TV is still everyone's favorite. Nowadays, it seems that it has become an almost mandatory item in most homes around the world and Costa Rica is no exception. Food and cooking shows in the morning, the news at noon, the afternoon soap opera and the nightly reality show have turned into daily rituals. And in the middle of it all children, no matter how young, are exposed at increasingly younger ages to this device, developing strong dependence ties to it.
TV is commonly used as a nanny, a substitute for parents or as a way of entertaining children at home. For many people it is quite convenient to leave their kids in front of the TV set while doing housework, while working or simply when they need to take a break. However, what is the impact of this behavior on their children's health, as well as on their neurological and social development?
In response to growing scientific evidence and the rapid increase in the number of TV shows, cartoons and DVDs that are targeted at children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a statement at the end of October in which it warned parents of the possible effects that the exposure and use of electronic devices might have in children under 2. Although most parents consider educational television an important tool for their child's development, the AAP claims otherwise: for this age group, television can never be considered educational. On the contrary, it may lead to developmental disorders, a delay in language skills and new vocabulary exposure and to a decreased interaction between parents and their children.
After age 2, when nearly one-third of kids already have a television in their room, over two hours of TV per day has been associated with obesity, sleep problems and impaired concentration. In addition, an excessive use of TV and other electronic devices alters family dynamics. When the TV is on, it becomes the center of attention, diminishing the interaction and communication that should occur among household members.
According to a survey conducted by UNIMER in September 2010 among 12 to 75-year old Costa Ricans, 87% reported watching TV during the daytime, 53% reported listening to the radio while only 34% reads newspapers. This shows how, just as in the rest of the world, the constant presence of mass media in our daily lives has turned into a major public health problem.
Parents: It's Hands-On Time!
By María José Zamora, M.D.
If you are one of those people who believe that TV or video games make the perfect nanny or that they are the only way to soothe your children, here are some suggestions and facts that could make you change your mind:
– Remember: children under 2 should never watch TV! After age 2 limit TV-viewing time to two hours per day.
– Children should never have a TV in their room.
– Do not keep the television on when no one is watching. Studies show that parents interact less with their children when the TV is on. Moreover, it has been found that, even while playing, kids will glance at the TV an average of three times per minute, receiving the effects of so-called "secondhand TV".
– Turn off the TV set and communicate with your children! Talk with them! Evidence shows that the less talk time a young child has during early developmental stages, the poorer their language will be.
– TV is not an educational tool. Kids need to actively interact with their environment and with people who surround them in order to learn and develop critical-thinking and problem solving skills. No TV program will ever teach them these skills.
– And remember: always encourage unstructured playtime. Playing, creating and doing things for themselves is still the best way for kids to learn.