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TV-watching guidelines for toddlers
Limit the amount of TV your toddler watches
If your child is under age 2, it's best to keep TV-watching to a bare minimum. If you choose to allow some television, break it up into 15-minute increments. Much more than that, and your toddler's brain can shift to autopilot.
Once your child hits 2, limit his total viewing time to an hour a day — even that amount is a lot for an active toddler. You should also keep the television out of your child's bedroom and turned off during meal times.
Watch programs, not television
Rather than sitting down to watch whatever happens to be on, carefully select the program your toddler's going to watch, and turn off the set when that program is over. Record programs ahead of time, if possible, so your child can watch what you want, when you want.
A two-minute warning that a show (or the segment of it that you're letting your toddler watch) is about to end will help him transition to the next activity.
Choose calm, quiet programs
Slower-paced viewing gives your toddler time to think about what he's watching and absorb the information. Lots of action and quickly changing images will only confuse him or make his eyes glaze over.
Some research suggests that children who watch violence on TV are more likely to display aggressive behavior. Stay away from scary shows, too. Instead, choose simple programs that emphasize interactivity. The best shows are those that inspire your child to makes sounds, say words, sing, and dance.
Watch with your toddler
A recent study looked at three groups: children with unlimited access to television, children with moderate access to television who watched without parents, and children with moderate access to television who watched with a parent.
The last group scored significantly higher academically than the other groups. Just being there says to your child, "What you do is important to me."
Of course, many of us have moments when we resort to using television or a video as a babysitter, but when you leave your child alone with the TV for a long time, you send a signal that you don't care what he watches. If you can, bring a basket of laundry to sort or some other task into the room so you can work and watch. Then it becomes an activity the two of you can enjoy together.
Help your toddler watch with a critical eye
Explain what's going on in the show, and encourage your child to ask questions and relate what's happening in the show to his own life. If you've recorded the show or are watching a video or DVD, press the pause button as often as you need to so that you have ample time to discuss what's going on.
If you're watching a recorded TV show, you'll probably want to fast-forward through the commercials. If you're stuck watching commercials, help your toddler understand the difference between those and the show itself.
Extend the show's content with activities or books
If you and your toddler have just finished watching a Sesame Street segment that introduces a number, talk about it later and find other examples to show him. When you're setting the table, for example, you might say, "Hey, today's number was three, and there are three places to set!" Then read and discuss a book that explores numbers concepts.
These recommendations were developed with the help of Kathleen Acord, project supervisor for KQED television's "Ready to Learn," a national government-sponsored program that educates parents and childcare providers about how to use television as a learning tool.