Is TV Time Actually Good For Preschoolers?

Will your preschooler’s brain rot if she watches TV everyday? What about multiple times a day? Will she be “less smart” than her non-watching TV peers? Is TV time the same if it’s on a tablet? What if she is only watching educational shows? How much TV time is too much?

These questions run through parents’ minds constantly. I am here to tell you that Mommy and Daddy guilt is indeed real! And letting your child sit in front of the TV for an interminable amount of time definitely brings on the guilt. 

We, as parents, permit our child to watch TV for a variety of reasons:

  • For entertainment; your child likes the show they are watching simply because she has fun watching it…In the same way you might enjoy watching GOT or The Walking Dead.  Watching TV is enjoyable.
  • She needs some down time. Your child is wild and crazy, but she will sit and relax when the TV comes on, especially after school or before bed.  
  • YOU need some down time. And by down time I mean that you need to load the dishwasher/fold the laundry/take a shower. You can put the TV on and know that she is not murdering her brother downstairs. 
  • She (or you) are sick. This is the worst. And there is nothing that will make your little one more rested than an afternoon in bed cuddling and watching TV.
  • The days are long and the TV is always around. She asks to watch and without much thought, you let her. 

Whatever the reason, there comes a time in every (okay almost every) preschoolers lives when they are going to watch TV, be it the classic way on the family television or independently with a tablet.   

I came across a great article on PBS.org that showcased new research that found preschoolers can gain important skills by watching TV.

Wait, what? TV is not the devil? Everything we have been told is a lie! 

The research specifically explored if preschoolers gain improvements in social skills from watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (a show that encourages social emotional learning). The researchers found that preschoolers who watched DT (our nickname at home for Daniel Tiger) had “higher levels of empathy, were better at recognizing emotions, and were more confident in social situations” than children who watched a nature documentary (PBS).

Sweet!!! Don’t you kind of want to rub this article in the faces of those parents you know who ONLY let their kids watch documentaries?!

Before you do that, though, there is more. Of course it is not so clear cut. The most important takeaway from the article:

Kids only experience the benefits of TV when an adult asks them questions about what it is they’re watching.

So if you are plopping your preschooler down and then going about your business, chances are they are not going to learn as much as when you interact with them about the show. And this is pretty obvious folks. 

So we know that some TV time is alright for our children to be watching. Alright. We can work with this. If you can’t sit down with your child and watch TV with them in its entirety (it defeats the purpose of putting it on in the first place!), then check out the show’s caption when you put it on. It should give you enough information to ask a plethora of questions afterwards. You really only need one good question to get your child talking about what they watching. Sometimes you can get this from the title of the episode! 

But in all seriousness, unlimited, unfiltered TV time is a definite no. Preschoolers are not meant to binge watch. Their little rapidly-developing brains just can’t take it. And while some TV is indeed okay and possibly educational, you should still be asking yourself some important questions in regard to your child’s TV time:

  • How does your child act AFTER they are done watching? The cold, hard truth is that not every child experiences TV in the same way. This means that some child react poorly from ANY amount of TV. If they are throwing tantrums after you turn it off or are acting different than their normal self, then TV time may need cut or reduced significantly. It’s unfair but true. 
  • How does your child interact with the show? Do they answer the questions as they are offered (Some shows are really great at asking questions)? Or do they go into “zombie-mode” when the TV comes on? Zombie-mode is never good.
  • How much control do they have? Watching a show on the tablet is similar to watching the show on the TV, with one difference: children have more control over what they are watching. They may initially be watching Blaze and the Monster Machines and then change it to some crappy video on YouTube. Parents need to be in control of what their child is watching. There is a whole market for terrible, TERRIBLE videos on YouTube that are indeed rotting your child’s brain. If they are unmonitored, they will find these videos (even on YouTube Kids).
  • Which leads us to, what kind of show are they watching? Is it an egg opening show on YouTube? Or an episode of Super Why? With the advancement of online streaming, the TV possibilities for preschoolers are endless. There are a variety of really great shows for preschoolers that can make a positive impact on your kids. Not all programming needs to be educational, but there is a big difference between a high quality Disney Junior/Nick Jr/PBS show and an unidentified man playing with toys on YouTube. (Please note that I am not anti-YouTube. My kids love to listen to a variety of songs found only on YouTube. I am not a fan of these hands videos, though.)
    Creepy hands opening eggs on YouTube
  • And finally, how often are they watching TV? Children under six spend about 2 hours a day watching TV (PBS). Under two hours should definitely be the target, with props for parents who keep it under an hour. A lot of families admit that they leave the TV on all day for background noise. “It is too quiet without it!” This may seem harmless, but this is actually worse than just sitting and watching a thirty minute show or even a two hour kid’s movie. This kind of background noise actually harms children’s language skills; research shows it can even harm them cognitively and physically (Science Daily). It also interferes with their ability to participate in play and other developmentally-necessary learning activities (Medical Daily). If you need background noise, consider putting on instrumental music, as needed. 

So Moms and Dads, TV time is indeed okay. We just need to be cognizant of the shows our children are watching and the length of time they are watching said shows. Preschool-aged children are going to learn with whatever medium they experience, be it TV, play dough, puzzles, grass, beads, workbooks, etc. They will learn best, however, when we give them high quality materials and mediums to interact with and when we are included in that learning process.

5 Comments

  1. There are definitely times when TV or tablet are useful to maintain sanity, anyone’s sanity; but, as you say they shouldn’t be overused, and the most important benefit comes from the discussion around what was viewed. Children learn language through using it, not just hearing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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