TV or Not TV

TV or Not TV for children

When you are raising a child in a minority language, the question of TV, videos and other types of screen time comes up very early. After all, other than yourself, videos, TV shows, and the occasional call to family on Skype, might be the only way to expose your child to the language you are trying to teach. However, we all know that putting a child in front of a TV or other type of electronic media can also be highly controversial.

Excessive TV watching can contribute to childhood obesity and a myriad of other health problems. Many shows, even cartoons, contain violence or other content inappropriate for children. TV and other types of screen time do not encourage creativity and keep children from engaging in activities essential for their development such as unstructured play, games with other children, and meaningful linguistic interactions with adults.

But, at the same time, you are struggling. Your child has no interest in speaking the minority language and there are only so many musical puppet shows you can put on in a day in order to entertain your easily bored tyke. Meanwhile, Youtube offers dozens of entertaining and seemingly educational videos in your minority language. They are all there, calling out to you. What is a bilingual child’s parent to do but give in to the allure of the screen? Well, fear not. Not all screen time is bad screen time. We will break down the good and the bad for you.

Good screen time

Too much TV is always bad for children (and adults too), but here are some facts on the positive uses of TV:

  • Kids who watch educational, non-violent TV shows do better on reading and math than those who do not
  • Children who watch educational TV shows when they are young tend to watch more informative shows as they get older
  • Preschoolers who watched educational TV shows tend to have higher grades, be less aggressive and value studying in high school
  • Cartoons have a soothing, painkilling effect on children who are in pain or experiencing stress, according to a study by the University of Siena

Bad screen time

  • TV provides no intellectual benefit to children under the age of 2 and can take away valuable time from activities needed for a baby or toddler’s developing brain
  • Kids who are bombarded by background TV noise at home have trouble paying attention to voices when there is also background noise
  • Watching TV decreases the amount of time children spend reading and improving reading skills
    School age children who watch a lot of TV spend less time working on homework and they retain less skills and information
  • 60 minutes of TV a day is associated with childhood obesity, according to a study by the University of Virginia

Like many things in life, TV can be good, but only in small, well-measured doses.

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Silvia is a Brazilian journalist, teacher, and mom. She grew up in Canada as a bilingual child, speaking only Portuguese at home and English everywhere else. Throughout her adult life, she has lived, studied and worked in both Brazil and Canada. Silvia thinks that bilingualism has opened so many doors for her and she wants the same for her children.