The problem with TV (and other screens)

The problem with TV (and other screens)

Children learn through play. They establish brain connections through movement. These brain connections ensure that children can concentrate on a task when they reach school age. They help with impulse control, judging situations and making a sustained effort. A child who is passive and immobile to the extreme may show deficits in gross and fine motor control, lack of interest in his/her surroundings and may demonstrate diminished emotional response. Retained primitive reflexes also have an influence.

The brain is made up of three main regions:

  • The prefrontal cortex, which is the control centre in the front,
  • the midbrain or emotional brain and
  • the cerebellum at the base. The cerebellum or small brain governs balance and coordination.

Further brain uplinks to the speech area and other areas of executive function are established. These uplinks between all the different brain areas ensure that the brain has conscious control over emotions, balance, posture and movement, speech and vision. This is why a toddler moves incessantly. It is the brain’s way of wiring itself for optimal function. The child can then adapt to changes in environment and plan strategies accordingly.

Most young children have short attention spans. They were designed like this so they can keep moving from one activity to the other – ensuring a good succession of varied stimulation needed for development. Children’s TV channels understand this. TV programs are short, to keep children engaged. The programs may have highly educational content. But the problem is time spent sitting with eyes glued to the screen. Children who are watching TV are not busy doing those other developmentally beneficial things.

  • The first problem with TV has to do with posture. Children’s TV watching postures are not always optimal. This can easily be fixed by sitting on a 45cm ball – lovely for core muscles, posture and proprioception.
  • The second problem is distance from the screen. Sitting too close can put strain on children’s eyes. But always sitting the same distance from the TV is also a problem for eye development. The eyes focus on the same distance and do not adapt from near, to and from far. Their eyes do not focus beyond the walls of the room. The fact that a ball is not stationary may help here.
  • The next problem has to do with eye movement. Staring at a fixed object at the same distance without head or eye movement limits vestibular input. This can be remedied by watching one short program at a time.


Gaming can be addictive. Achievement in games are rewarded with extended play – reaching a new level. Some children will keep playing or watching TV for any length of time. Screen time should be limited to a total of 1 – 2 hours per day. Ideally this time can be divided into different sessions of gaming and/or TV. Children are not responsible for making healthy developmental decisions.


Helpful activity link:

Brain connections explained: (Chapter 11)

Dangers of screen addiction:


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