While the temptation to veg out in front of the TV is pretty strong at the end of a long day, the decision to allow toddlers to watch television comes with a few more considerations

What's wrong with a bit of television?

Babies and toddlers don't see television the way adults do. When we watch television, we understand that there's a plot, social interaction, actors, special effects, sets and so forth. Young children can't differentiate between what is real and what is not.

Not only that, but babies and toddlers haven't developed their visual systems fully until they are about 3 years old. So unless the program is specifically designed for them, they won't be getting much out of it. In fact, child development experts have recommended that TV is altogether avoided before the age of 2.

When to use TV

It's ok to turn on the TV every now and then. Sometimes it feels like it's the best thing you can do to take a break or settle an unruly toddler. Try not to use TV as a substitute for playtime or socialisation though – these processes are far more productive and constructive for your toddler's development.

Your toddler will therefore gain more benefit from TV if it is an activity in which you join in. They will be able to respond to your responses and learn from you. If you can, watch a program that includes a bit of interactivity between each of you.

What to watch

Always try and choose a program or channel purposely made for your child's age group. These shows refrain from scary or sexualised images and are visually more appealing due to the slow movement of objects and characters.

In general, these programs teach children about everyday objects, environments and processes and, if selected thoughtfully, will not have embedded marketing messages.

Alternatives to TV

  • Music and CDs, especially those with interactive instructions, books or objects, can be a good way to reduce the sensory overload for your child. This also frees them up to use their imagination when playing with toys
  • Engage your toddler in household chores. While they might take longer to do, chores won't be seen as a punishment if you're doing them too. If you can make this work, this is a great way to educate your toddler about life around the home
  • Have a special basket of toys that's only brought out infrequently. While they don't have to be expensive or even store-bought, they should be different enough to your toddler's other toys that they get excited to play with them
  • Involve your toddler in cooking. Whether it's pretending you're on a cooking show, genuinely helping you sort and prepare food or letting them choose what goes into their food (such as an omelette, sandwich or pizza) time spent in the kitchen with you will be constructive time for your toddler

Thoughts to consider

  • TV can develop into an unhealthy salve if it is used during high stress moments or constantly utilised as a distraction. This can have further consequences as your child matures
  • When your toddler watches TV, try and avoid channels with advertisements, or opt for DVDs and taped programs
  • You are the best role model for your child. If they see you watching TV frequently, it is likely to be normalised in their eyes
  • Don't feel guilty about letting your child watch TV. But do consider when they're watching it, how often they're watching it and why they're watching it
The best thing for your child's development is to socialise, play, create and discover things about themselves and the world around them. As an adult guardian, you remain the most important thing in their lives, so get involved!