By Julia Vinokur

Electronic media is all around us with iPads, TVs, video games, kindles and iPhones.  It has become a part of our culture and day-to-day life.  Although concerns about media impact on kids are not new, technological progress has made access to media instantaneous, leaving parents to adjust to the new realities of life in an electronic age.

What kinds of hidden dangers does TV/Media possess? 

  1. First of all, it has a huge overwhelming effect on children, creating a kaleidoscope of sounds and images.  While trying to follow and figure out all of them, a child gets very tired.  Just to compare, 2 hours of TV is equivalent to hosting a party that lasts the same amount of time.  At the same time, TV/Madia brings not only tiredness, but also excitement. Most children after watching emotional programs become over-excited.  Horror movies might bring more fears, hence poor sleep and nightmares.  Scenes of violence cause children to be more aggressive.
  2. Another danger of spending too much time in front of a TV is for a child to become dependent on it.  A lot of times we turn on TV for our children just to get a break and have some time for ourselves, adults.  While we put our children in from of the TV, they get attached to their new “friend.”  TV can be a distraction from unpleasant thoughts, it does not get angry, demanding, does not ask for anything, like real friends do. The problem is that TV is a constant one-way conversation, and a child does not have an opportunity to respond, talk back, and communicate.  It is a well-known fact that children who spend a lot of time in from of the TV have poor communication, verbal, and reading skills.  Children have difficulties in constructing sentences, and phrases, finding proper words in order to articulate their thinking. The opposite happens with books.  When a child reads a book, he can control information flow as he wishes – stop, think for a second, read again a sentence or a paragraph, discuss with an adult, put away till next day.  TV on the other hand, offers uncontrollable, over-stimulating information.  
  3. It appears to be that children mostly choose to watch entertainment programs, rather educational material. Educational programs require children to concentrate more and to think, which does not always sound appealing.  It is so much easier to choose useless shows and programs full of commercial advertising.
  4. It is very harmful for a child’s well being to be in a room where TV works all the time: nobody watches, but no one turns it off either.  Children do homework, play, talk to their parents, have dinner, and sometimes fall asleep while TV is working.  Such a white noise brings exhaustion, tiredness, and even headaches.  It is very important to remember that all of us, including children, need to be in a quite setting, alone with their thoughts once in a while.

What to do if your child is addicted to an Electronic Media?

  • First of all, it is very important to substitute TV or other media device with personal attention. Initially, parents can choose to watch a movie or a program together with the child, and discuss it while watching, to make the experience interactive.  It would serve as a great transition to the next step.
  • Then it is very important to substitute TV or other media device with yourself. In other words, to spend some time with a child, instead of sending him to do his homework or to read a book. Do something interesting together.  Try to remember what your child had been asking.  Maybe he wanted to play some silly game, or go outside to play, or bake something together.

Positive Media Time

iPad

It is vey difficult to stay away from all the electronic media that surrounds us nowadays.  And, in my opinion, parents can find some positive effect in it.  I mostly keep iPads for flying, so my children might use them occasionally to help with the stress or excitement of long-distance travel.  There are so many educational applications targeted to improve math, reading and language skills.  My older daughter loves chess, younger – tangrams.  They both enjoy interactive fairy tales in Russian.  One of the advantages of the new technologies such as an iPad is that they have many interactive features, and allow a child to use them on their own time – putting it away, going back and revisiting a question, etc.  That’s a very different experience from watching a TV program, in my view.

Family Movie Night

Once a week we choose a movie or educational program to watch together.  Since we are a bilingual family, we encourage our children to watch movies in Russian.  Among all the educational programs, our favorite is the BBC series “All about animals.”  While watching TV, I prefer to stay with my children, so we can pause at any time to discuss, start over, talk, or just enjoy a movie together.

Books

4527213_mThe last thing that I would like to write about is the greatest invention ever – books.  The collected knowledge of humanity accumulated through the centuries is there, in books, and we just need to teach our children how to use them and enjoy them. Every time I turn on TV for my children, I feel guilty for taking this time away from reading. Children can get a lot from the books: values, life stories, lessons, facts and knowledge.   I am trying to teach my girls that if you have a book, you can never be bored.  Despite of the many advantages of an IPad, it still does not have the same physical characteristics as a book, and also makes it hard to stay focused on the story when a child can switch over to an interactive game, a chat program, or a cartoon.    

Last year my daughter’s art teacher gave children an assignment to pick a character from the book and draw a scene around this character.  One specific rule was not to take any characters from the movies or cartoons. It was difficult at the beginning, but once children let their imagination fly, it turned out to be a wonderful lesson.  If children are watching a cartoon, their imagination is not working; everything is set for them in a certain way.  Books on the other hand, keep you wondering, picturing characters, imagining scenes, creating your own stories, and so on.   It is very easy to learn and get attached to gadgets, it is very hard, however, to learn to appreciate a good book.  And it is our job, as parents to give them an opportunity and a chance to dive into this wonderful and magical world of the novels, poems, and stories.