|How To Make Tv Is Useful For Your Kids|
|Written by Egypt Eve|
|Monday, 05 March 2012 10:54|
She has an old-fashioned name, never goes anywhere without her backpack - and will educate as well as entertain your little one while she sits back and watches television. Toddlers who watch small screen heroes such as Dora the Explorer have a wider vocabulary at the age of two-and-a-half than non-viewers and learn quicker, research has shown.
And in what the experts have dubbed the Pokemon phenomenon, children also learn better manners and how to respond in a positive way through watching their favourite TV programmes.
Far from being the evil electronic monster turning our babies, toddlers and children into a generation of square-eyed ‘layabouts', research has proved that not only is television good for kids - it actually makes them smarter. "There's no doubt that TV gives children a broader, more vivid imagination and helps with creative play and fantasy,'' says relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam. "It's also an incredible resource for learning and gaining emotional knowledge."
Devika Singh, psychologist and learning enrichment specialist at Dubai Herbal & Treatment Centre adds, "TV shows can be informative in different ways. On the one hand, the more academic educational shows provide factual information about the world, our body, health, fitness and so on. Other shows based on the life of characters address social and emotional issues that are depicted theatrically to model relationship functioning, conflict resolution, problem solving, and building resilience. Children relate these stories to their own lives and learn rules through their TV watching experience. This can never replace parenting, but can serve as a great way to reinforce the message to children."
With numerous children's digital channels to choose from, kids these days can watch cartoons, films, documentaries, news, music and the weather. Even babies have their own special channels and programmes to help them develop and reach key learning and behaviour milestones.
"They live in a media-rich environment with so much choice, with programmes that transport them to different places and teach them about different cultures and values that they would never have had access to before," says Susan. "However, while the web is very open, TV programmes are still much more tightly controlled about what is suitable for children to watch."
Since the creation of Sesame Street in 1969 in America, made with the help of educators and child psychologists, Big Bird and Cookie Monster have been helping three-to-five year olds prepare for school with the introduction of letters, numbers and reading skills. Studies have shown that children who watched TV regularly were better at recognising numbers, the alphabet, body parts, shapes and had a bigger vocabulary than those who didn't.
Teletubbies, which was aimed at toddlers aged 12 to 24 months, became an overnight sensation with the innovative way the characters taught children to actively join in the singing, dancing, and imitating. They might have been red, blue, yellow aliens who made strange noises, but nearly 80 per cent of parents with children under six who watched programmes like Teletubbies noticed their child's language develop as a result.
"My little boy is like all the kids I know, and learnt everything from Cbeebies,'' says Vic Pires, mum to six-year-old Tommy and four-month-old Alex. "I could see him taking everything in from TV from a very early age,'' she says. "He's a very bright boy now who's obsessed with wildlife shows."
Getting off to a great start
The effects of this early learning are far-reaching. Twenty-five years after the first Sesame Street episode aired, researches traced early viewers and discovered many of them achieved higher grades in English, maths and science throughout school. "This suggests that those who watch educational programming enter school with learning skills that make them more interested and motivated learners, which sets them up for academic success,'' the study said.
But it's not just about edutainment - the blurring between learning and entertainment. Children's TV has changed the way children - and society - think over the years. In the West, an episode of kids' favourite Rainbow in the early 1980s, which showed the mum going out to work while the dad stayed at home, changed an entire generation's views on gender roles and stereotyping.
And popular programmes like Dora the Explorer, Scooby Doo and Bob the Builder teach children problem-solving and communication skills while they watch.
"My little girl is advanced in her vocabulary and that's definitely down to watching children's TV,'' says Karin Joyce, mum to Ella, who's 23 months old. "When she is having lunch, she says, ‘Oh, that's delicious,' or ‘that's amazing' - phrases she's learnt from kids' cooking shows. She could count to seven when she was just one, from hearing it every day on television.
"We go out and play, and mix with other children, but I let Ella watch three hours of TV a day with me, and it's definitely aided in her development,'' she says.
But even purely entertainment kids' programmes, like cartoons, which are not designed to be educational, can help children learn.
"My seven-year-old is obsessed with Star Wars the Clone Wars, says British mum-of-two Lorraine Parsons, 32. "It might not seem educational, but he loves it so much he's asked me to buy him Star Wars activity and reading books. Now he wants to read every day, even though he hated it before," she says.
"He also learns from watching current affairs on TV. He watched Sky News in his classroom during the general election and knew more than me. I was staggered to find out how much he knew about the whole process.''
TV programmes can even stop bullying, or help children become socially accepted. Six-year-old Sid was so shy he was ignored by his classmates until he spoke in a show-and-tell about his favourite TV show, Pokemon. His knowledge impressed his peers so much, he was finally accepted into the group, researchers found.
"Television definitely helps children bond,'' agrees Susan. "If a child doesn't have those ‘playground moments' where they all talk and recreate parts of a popular TV programme, then they'll feel alienated. It's essential that children know some popular culture so they can feel part of the group.''
Playing at programmes such as Power Rangers also helps creative - and moral - development. "Not only will a child who watches TV have a more vivid imagination but they'll also have a more realistic representation about the results of actions,'' says Susan. "They'll see the baddies get punished and the goodies rewarded so they're learning a moral framework and consequences to bad behaviour."
Lessons in life
And the right shows can teach a lot more than just numbers and letters. "We've learnt a lot of life lessons through watching television,'' Lorraine says. "My son's favourite film when he was younger was Finding Nemo, where the mother fish dies in the opening scene. It gave us the chance to naturally discuss a sensitive subject, and because of that, he's not scared of death.''
Children who watch TV with their families are emotionally more mature, having been exposed to a variety of experiences through the small screen - even ones that can be controversial.
"TV programmes can encourage thinking skills whereby parents can use information from shows to ask children their views. It can help kids think about different perspectives and encourage them to share their own, even when they differ from others. For example, a parent might ask a child what they would do if they found themselves in the same situation as the protagonist in a TV show. This can help them sift through their options and develop important reasoning abilities," says Devika.
Parenting expert, and mum, Liz Jarvis says her son Oliver, 16, has a healthy attitude to family life after watching The Simpsons. "They're a dysfunctional American family and viewed in a fairly dim light,'' she says. "But Oliver loves the show and I've always let him watch it as the overwhelming truth to that family is how close-knit they are.'' From here Oliver has progressed to Family Guy, a controversial cartoon that's been banned before. "It's ironic, hilarious and actually quite sophisticated. You have to be intelligent and switched on to get the humour and I think that's why my son is so funny."
Of course, parents and experts alike agree television shouldn't be treated as a babysitter. "It's all about balance," says Susan. "Babies will always respond better to a real face than an image so they'll naturally find interacting with a parent more interesting than a programme.
"And you shouldn't just let a child sit in front of the TV because you're too busy for them. But if a child is happy, confident and socially competent, television can be good for them."
Liz agrees. "Television has definitely broadened more than just my son's education. Because he's watched programmes like The Pacific and Band of Brothers, along with documentaries and real-life footage of the Second World War, it has brought his lessons, and history books to life.
"He now watches around 11 hours of TV a week. That's not excessive and hasn't stopped him playing sports, doing his homework, having friends and reading lots of books. He's a happy, funny, rounded, bright teenager and TV has been a major contributing factor to that."
Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson says, "The key to good and steady development in children is a wide variety of activities and television can be included in that. However the way in which TV is used can be key to making it beneficial." Here are his top tips for optimum TV time:
1. Make it age appropriate as shows aimed at specific ages will have been developed specifically for your child's learning level and needs. Letting them watch Coronation Street might not do them any harm but it certainly won't do them much good educationally.
3. Make it an opportunity to interact. Sit down with your child when you can and share the experience. Ask them questions about what they are seeing and hearing on the screen. This makes it more of a learning experience.
4. Make it a part of a range of activities. Television should form a part of an overall diet of stimulation for a child. Vary your child's pastimes so they are getting a range of things to do.