As parents, the dilemma over how much television your little one should be watching is incredibly difficult. Indeed, whether they should be watching it full-stop is a question that divides mums and dads.
On the one hand the telly can be fun, stimulating and educational. On the other, it is seen as an easy option for babysitting and, at worst, harmful to your child.
A recent report claims that a child born today will have spent a full year watching the box by the time they reach the age of seven, leading to attention problems as well as issues with health and relationship building.
Child health expert Dr Aric Sigman, writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, has been quoted in many newspapers warning that many parents have begun using TVs and computers as “electronic babysitters”, adding: "Screen time appears to have created the three-parent family.”
So, should we cut out TV completely, at least until they are a little older? Dr Sigman thinks so, recommending parents should delay their children using screens until they are at least three. Many guides suggest no TV until they hit two, but is it really so bad to put a baby in front of the box?
As with everything, the general consensus seems to be everything in moderation. If you are careful with what your little one watches, making sure it is educational and age appropriate, and you mix it in with plenty of other stimulation such as painting, imaginary and outside play, and interaction with other children at groups, then the TV can be a positive influence.
Obviously, if you plonk your child in front of the television all day, this is not good. But there are ways to incorporate it into a healthy daily routine. Here are some good tips to follow:
Lead by example when it comes to telly watching. You can’t expect your baby or toddler to not demand TV time if you are always sat in front of the box – although chances are if you are running around after an active toddler, you won’t have had five minutes to sit down for a quick cuppa let alone watch your favourite daytime soap.
Research has also shown that British children have regular access to an average five screens at home by the age of ten.
While this includes consoles and laptops too, limiting the number of TVs can reduce the temptation, and it is certainly a good idea to avoid installing a telly in your child’s bedroom where you will find monitoring the amount they watch extremely difficult. Out of sight, out of mind is the motto here.
The bottom line is it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure television is watched responsibly.
Being able to pop your baby in front of the box while you prepare lunch or hang out the washing can be a lifesaver and we shouldn’t feel wracked with guilt for doing it.
Go with your instinct. If you are feeling uncomfortable with the amount of TV your toddler is watching, then chances are it is too much. If it is just a small part of an otherwise stimulating and varied routine, sit back, watch and enjoy. A calm parent is better than a stressed one trying to live up to expectations they cannot reach. And don’t forget it can be a moment of relaxing downtime for your little one too.