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Updated 19 August 2016

Blog: Square eyes - your child and the TV

The fact that South African kids watch around 3 hours of TV per day means that they are at risk of various health and social issues.

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The research we are focusing on this week found that in South Africa children between 10 & 17 watch an average of 3 hours of TV a day increasing to more than 3.5 hours over the week-end. 

We know some of the reasons too much screen time is bad for our kids, include:

- If your child spends more than 4 hours per day on screen time he/she is more likely to be overweight.

- Children who constantly view violence on TV are more likely to show aggressive behavior.

- The negative influences and characters depicted on TV can create the incorrect stereotypes and ‘heroes’ for our children.

- Imagination, initiative and being intellectually challenged are all skills compromised by too much screen time.

I am going to be the first one to stick my hand in the air and admit that sometimes the TV and even the internet have played babysitter to my kids.  Those times when you are cooking, trying to assist kids with homework and you keep getting interrupted by one of the many.  That’s when the iPad or TV has step in and have been a very good babysitter and the savior of my sanity. 

The reality is that at the end of the day, screen time, whether while being entertained or educated, is time away from being physically active.  At Sun Valley Primary School the learners do a large extent of their daily school work, on iPads or tablets.  I am all for this “new age” of education.  My kids no longer reach for the Encyclopedia Britannica when searching for information, they just Google it. Which for me is a lot safer! Have you ever dropped an encyclopedia on your foot? 

Somehow there needs to be a balance, and as the parent that starts with me.  I could easily get caught up for ages on all the social media platforms but I reserve that time for when the kids have gone to bed.  There are also many app’s you can download onto your devices. These app’s will allow you to limit the amount of time your kids are allowed on the device, as well, you being able to set perimeters to restrict the quality of sites they visit. The same applies to the quality of TV I watch when we settle down as a family for the evening.  As much as I would love to put on Ray Donovan, we stick to the more family friendly shows.  On the upside Mili-Flyn’s Spanish is doing so well since she became a fan of Dora the Explorer. The general rule for our family is, while the sun is shining we are outdoors playing, whether it be marbles or rugby.  Rainy days can be challenging but then the old school games come out.  I recently taught my 9 year old son how to play Rummy, which was a small victory in itself. 

Some of our local schools are very aware of the effect that sedentary behaviour has on our kids.  Rondebosch Prep have implemented healthy snack breaks where kids are taken on a 5 minute brisk walk around the school field while snacking on nuts, fruit or biltong.  Another great way to get kids active is a method used by a USA teacher who keeps her student’s on their feet through language, arts and maths classes, making them dance their way through a spelling exercise.

Here are some ideas to keep the kids busy indoors instead of seated in front of the TV:

- Bring out those music CD’s and get the kids dancing around the lounge.  This will not only keep them active but can also provide everyone with a good laugh.

- Record yourself reading stories.  Play this back to kids when you need a couple of minutes timeout from them.  This will also help improve their listening skills.

- Involve them in household chores.  My 4 year old loves using the vacuum cleaner, packing away the plastic containers and folding the socks. 

- My friend has an activity bag and I think really need to get myself sorted with one.  It is filled with puzzles, colouring in books, crayons and Lego blocks. While she is cooking they keep busy in the kitchen building puzzles but still close enough for her to interact with them.  This activity bag is also handy when visiting restaurants.

- Bring out the board games.  The street names might have changed but the fun of winning a game of Monopoly is still priceless.  A game of Twister is also a good way to get the blood flowing.

For Fatimah’s 8 year old daughter the television has had an enthralling impact coming from a household of avid TV watchers this is hardly surprising. Behaviour is learned not taught. Noticing the impact of this excessive TV watching behavior Fatimah has begun weaning her daughter from this behavior by policing screen cut off times more vigorously.

During the week her daughter is allowed screen time between school, Madrassah (Islamic school), homework, supper, bath and bedtime. She admits it’s a struggle not to revert to using TV as a baby sitter and allowing a few extra minutes here and there. And as an introvert herself Fatimah identifies with her daughter’s ability to shut out the world and deep dive into her imagination when she’s letting it go with Elsa or taking care of her virtual tablet family. For now the struggle is helping her daughter find the balance between the valid need to shut out the world for her imagination’s sake and letting it in for the sake of everything else.

We asked some of the other “blogging Mommies” if they noticed any change in their children’s behaviour based on the amount of time they spend on their screens:

“On the odd occasion that Mikayla does spend too much time watching TV or playing games, she gets noticeably lazy and frustrated when you interrupt her. She will even cry when you take the game away from her or turn off the television - which is not cool.”  Maz Halliday of  www.caffeineandfairydust.com

Also, do you limit screen time for your children in your household?

“No because they all actually self-regulate this to be honest. The older two are generally preoccupied with homework and their extra murals that they don’t really spend excessive amounts of time in front of the TV. Also there are four of them fighting for TV time so generally 2/4 lose out, which means they aren’t watching.” Laura le Roux of www.harassedmom.co.za

Let us know how much screen time you allow your kids per day- you can comment below.

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