A week without TV

A week without TV
In the Cloutier-St-Pierre household, as in so many, the TV often stays on even if no one is really watching it.

In the Cloutier-St-Pierre household, as in so many, the TV often stays on even if no one is really watching it. So, what happened when the family turned it off?

Stéphanie had to take it easy during her pregnancy because she was at risk for preterm labour. This was anything but easy for this mom of 2 year-old twins. So she started turning on the small screen to catch a bit of a break. After Élodie, now 5 months old, was born, she continued to keep the TV on for most of the day. “I would turn it on after breakfast, and it would stay on until lunch. The kids would obviously not stay sitting there the entire time,” says Stéphanie, “but they asked for it more and more, and that bothered me.” So the family decided to keep the TV turned off for a week.

The twins, Émeraude and Édouard, protested—especially in the beginning. They would take advantage of times when Stéphanie was breastfeeding or housecleaning to fight and misbehave. “I tried different things,” she says. “When I prepared meals, for example, I would take out their plastic food for them to ‘cook’ along with me. I also rearranged my schedule so that I could do some chores or rest while they napped.”

Family time

The absence of TV had a positive effect on the family. “When the children asked for their shows, we would suggest a game or outdoor activity instead,” explains Patrick, their dad. “We spent more time as a family.” The parents also noted that the twins would fall asleep much more easily at naptime.

When the TV stays on, even if your child isn’t watching it, he is less inclined to speak and play with others.

Moreover, the couple felt that their 2 year-old daughter Émeraude’s language skills improved. A coincidence? Perhaps not. Research has found that young children exposed to background TV noise have slower language development than others. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that children and parents speak to each other less when the TV is on. The screen also creates a kind of distraction that hinders the intellectual development of toddlers because it reduces interaction with the people around them. When the TV is on, even if no one is watching it, children have less desire to play with others.

Keeping the TV on during meals also has a negative effect. “The children are more interested in the screen than their plates,” note the parents. This is not an optimal situation. “When we watch a screen, we tend to ignore our hunger and eat more than we need to,” explains nutritionist Stéphanie Côté. “Plus, it inhibits conversations around the table.” This is why it’s recommended to keep the TV off during family meals. Meals eaten together as a family help strengthen bonds and promote self-esteem.

Good TV habits

Never letting your child watch TV may seem unrealistic to you. But you’ll benefit most by limiting TV time and by watching shows with your child so you can talk about them and enrich his experience. Montreal’s Director of Public Health also recommends keeping your child away from violent shows. When such shows are viewed early on in life, they may affect your child’s attention, concentration and academic achievements later on.

Inappropriate for children!
It’s a good idea to keep children away from news reports. The content is often violent. “Children tend to worry about news reports where they recognize their own environment,” notes André H. Caron. “If a kidnapping took place in a park, for example, they will become anxious because they also play in a park.” If your child witnesses an unhappy event on TV, it’s a good idea to talk to him about it. You can start by asking him what he understood. “Often, the child imagines things that are different from reality,” he notes. “Talking about it lets you explain the situation and reassure your child.”

It’s also a good idea to favour educational content, like Stéphanie and Patrick do. “I get the impression that the twins learn things when they watch educational shows. When a TV character asks them to point out a shape, they do it,” says Stéphanie. “But we read them books about shapes, so did they really learn that through TV?” Studies confirm that reading books to children is more instructive than an educational TV show. “For 4 and 5 year-olds, educational shows can reinforce certain learning, but it’s a mistake to rely on them alone,” says André H. Caron, Director of the Centre for Youth and Media Studies. Your toddler will not become bilingual because of Dora the Explorer, but watching this show may help him if he’s learning English elsewhere. Linda Pagani, professor at the Université de Montréal Department of Educational Psychology talks about an interesting experiment that demonstrated the importance of interacting with a living, breathing adult. “In one room, we had a person teaching Mandarin to children. In another, toddlers watched the scene on a TV. The result: the first group learned much more than the second. Our brain is programmed to learn through contact with human beings,” she says.

Conclusions after one week

Following the end of their experiment, the Cloutier-St-Pierre family has decided to change their TV habits. “When I breastfeed, I can’t react quickly since my baby regurgitates with the slightest abrupt movement,” explains Stéphanie. “The TV helps me keep the twins calm next to me.” But the rest of the time, the TV is off. Many professionals agree that this is a good solution. Most of the time, children need to be busy doing something other than watching TV. They should be playing with their toys, moving, creating, drawing, playing with friends, and yes, even getting bored.