by Sharon Rechter
The issue of children and television viewing has been debated for many years, including whether they should be allowed to watch at all. As the mother of two young girls myself, I understand the challenge of determining at what age they can be first exposed to TV, as well as what types of programming can provide the most benefit to them.
While some may regard television simply as an electronic babysitter, I think it’s important to understand that as with many other activities, television can actually be used as an important tool to enhance the development of our kids. It starts with parents doing research on what is available, and seeking out the kinds of shows that are designed by developmental experts.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 95% of American babies watch television, so from my practical perspective, the question isn’t “should children watch TV,” but rather, “what are they watching, how much and under what conditions?” Content is absolutely key. If it’s appropriate, educational and non-violent, children can learn and have a very positive experience.
It’s also important to vary the types of programs your kids watch. The younger the child (especially babies), the greater will be their natural tendency to gravitate toward their favorites. Be sure to continually refresh the content you select, offering your child exposure to new and exciting things. In the long-term, this will help keep their interest, while nurturing their development.
Of course, just because a TV show is educational, it is essential that limits be set on the amount of time that children are allowed to watch. As with all aspects of parenting, a healthy balance should be maintained, with plenty of time allocated for reading, creative play and spending time outdoors.
Ideally, parents should watch television together with their children. Not only does this foster bonding, it also allows you to become an interactive part of the viewing experience. Concepts that are introduced during viewing can be reinforced and built upon by moms and dads. An easy way to do this is by exercising their memory skills after a program has concluded. Ask your child about what they saw and heard, such as the names of favorite characters, noises the animals made and songs they enjoyed the most.
Moreover, watching together provides an excellent opportunity for emotional bonding. Providing immediate positive reinforcement to a child, especially when they may be too young to communicate verbally, can be critically important to their emotional growth.
Ultimately, each child and family’s experience with television will be different. In my own experience, I’ve found that my daughters have learned a great deal from age-appropriate educational TV. They even learned sign language!
The company I co-founded, BabyFirst, decided to produce a television series called, I Can Sign, that helps parents communicate with their very young children before they’re able to speak. I found it to be an amazing way to interact and connect with my girls, and it really fostered a bond with them long before they had learned to talk. That was a few years ago, but we still use it as a “secret language” between us.
There is constant debate as to the “right way” to raise a child, and most parents ask a lot of questions and experiment quite a bit before they find what works best. Because television viewing is a reality in today’s homes, parents can take advantage of it as very versatile tool that can introduce their children to a wide variety of new ideas, while helping to reinforce early education.
About Sharon Rechter
Sharon Rechter, along with business partner, Guy Oranim, conceptualized and co-founded BabyFirst (www.babyfirsttv.com), which is a global TV channel for tots. In her role as executive vice president, she leads the business development and marketing activities for the company – with a clear passion to bring quality, new educational programming to families of babies and toddlers.
Rechter has a broad background in television programming and recently served as the vice president and head of operations for The Israeli Network (the Israeli television channel in the U.S.). She was responsible for the general management of the network, and focused on areas including business development, advertising and subscriptions. Before entering the television broadcast industry, Rechter headed the strategic planning department at GNS Advertising in Israel where she was responsible for developing strategic plans for a variety of lifestyle brands.