Children and Media

Waldorf education strongly encourages the limitation of media for children.   Many parents I know have a difficult time with this, and even question why they should limit media for children when “everything my child watches is educational.”  This is a topic that deserves a closer look.

Joan Almon writes in the forward to Martin Large’s book, “Set Free Childhood”, the following:  “My primary concern about children’s exposure to media has to do with the issue of how children grow and develop their full human capacities, and the many ways in which our culture interferes with this.  For children to develop well, they need caring adults with whom they have much contact and who inspire them to develop their full range of human abilities – mental, social, emotional, and physical.  Even the best of media programs cannot begin to inspire children in the way that a loving adult can.  Yet far too often, adults are calling upon the media to baby-sit their children. They feel guilty about about this, for they know that media is no substitute for their own attention and care; but the pressure in their lives leads them to do it anyway.”  She goes on to talk about the lack of imagination and aggression she has seen as a Waldorf nursery/kindergarten teacher in the children who watch TV.

Marie McClendon in her book “Alternatives to TV Handbook” explains how television works. “A television image is seen because the images are normally re-drawn – or scanned- about 60 times a second.  Imagine how much this is for the eye and brain to process.  Regardless of program content or pace, TV overstimulates and taxed the developing neurological systems and may result in shorter attention spans and hyperactivity.  It is simply how the television works”  She goes on to say, “It may sound funny, but the worst thing about your children watching hours of TV is that they are not climbing trees.”  She has a summary of the “Top Ten Research Findings on Children Viewing TV” and mentions that TV-induced alpha brain waves place the brain in a non-learning mode and are addictive.  The alpha brain waves with TV watching are less than sleep or dream waves; the brain actually atrophies.

Martin Large, in his book “Set Free Childhood” has the following criteria available to evaluate the TV your child is watching:

1. News – he concludes is unsuitable for children under the age of 12.

2. Language – he suggests turning off e picture of your child’s television show and listening to the language in it – How do you rate the richness of language expression?

3. Advertising – enough said.

4,  Social skills – How do people solve problems?  What values are offered?

5. Comprehension level – does your child actually  understand the plot lines or what happened, even if they enjoy it? 

Even just the background noise of TV affects how babies sleep.  A newborn baby is sensitive to noise, bright lights, cold and warmth.  I cannot tell you  how many times I have gone into a newborn infant’s room to examine an infant and had to ask the family to turn a blaring TV off.  It always amazes me that there is this precious newborn infant in the room, and the family members are glued to some sort of incredibly loud show on the television! If you are pregnant or have a newborn in the house, please do think seriously about the sounds and screens that are in front of your babies!  The American Academy of Pediatrics also has position statements regarding the hazards of television viewing for children, you can access these policy statements on their website.

Potential health hazards of your child watching TV includes visual processing problems, childhood obesity and lack of exercise, nature deficit disorder, social isolation, the undermining of play and aggressive or anti-social behavior.  Attention deficits and inability to concentrate has also been tied to television viewing in children.  If you are concerned about your child’s developmental progress or behavior in any way, shape or form I strongly encourage you to cut off the television.

Some Waldorf families have no television in their homes at all; some have a TV but hide it away and it does not come on until the children are asleep.   Some families never watch TV, some ban TV during the week, some ban TV during the weekends.  Some allow one show a week, some families allow a certain number of hours per month.  Some families do not really watch TV, but are not adverse to putting in a half hour of Barney is the entire world and all the children are just simply falling apart. 

Eliminating TV does require some advance planning – have some simple activities ready that  you can pull out. One time of day many parents find challenging is the before dinner hour, when it seems almost all small children are tired, hungry and whiny. Marie McClendon proposes some ideas on page 40 of her little book.  She mentions that you can make up a story while you cook, sing while you cook, give the children a snack, make a little fort for your children to hide away in while you cook, or let your child call grandma or someone while you cook.  My personal favorite is to let the children have a snack and either play with homemade salt dough while I cook or enlist them to help me scrub vegetables, tear lettuce for a salad or set the table.  Filling up one half of the sink with soapy water is also usually a  hit for my younger child.

The other area that mothers often find challenging without TV is that famous question of how to keep the older child entertained in order to get a few moments to put the baby to sleep.  There are several things that come to mind.  You may consider trying to lay down with both of them while you read to the older one and hopefully the little one will drift off to sleep. You could also set up play scenarios with little figures and silks and see if the older child cannot engage himself in some play for a few moments.  If you don’t worry about the mess you could set up a big tub of dried beans and cups for pouring, build a big fort and let your oldest have a snack in it while you get the little one off to sleep.  Another thought is to set up lacing cards or wooden beads and strings for your older child to play with.  One thing that always worked well for me personally was to wear the baby in a sling and let the baby nap there till the baby was old enough for only one nap a day and  then I only had to think of something for my oldest to do alone once a day instead of twice a day!  In any case, also take a look at your rhythm again and make sure your oldest has a lot of outside time before the baby needs a nap, so then he or she will want to do something quieter at that point.

Marie McClendon’s book has many suggestions for what to do instead of TV, divided by age group.  It is a small book of about 56 pages, but packs a lot of information in it. I highly recommend you look over the suggestions of activities she presents and see if that doesn’t help stimulate your own ideas!

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

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