The debate on the ideal length of time for children to spend in front of a TV screen continues to rage generating more heat than light.
At the end of the day the ultimate responsibility as to what is best for the child must rest with parents — no other authority can take over the role.
That said, there is evidence that time spent in front of a TV screen without much physical activity is not good for children.
Former US First Lady Michelle Obama led a campaign against obesity in children and in her autobiography, Becoming, she tells the story of her efforts to change children’s lifestyles.
These strategies included eating more vegetables and less junk.
To this end she dug up part of the White House lawn to grow vegetables! She also held strong views on physical activity for children, including limiting time they spent with electronic gadgets.
A few sobering facts might help shed more light.
Studies show that every two hours of watching TV leads to 23 per cent increased risk of obesity in women.
The same number of hours of watching TV increases the risk of diabetes by 14 per cent.
This means that excessive TV watching is harmful to your health. In a 2001 study published in the North American Paediatric Journal, the authors demonstrated the harm of watching TV in children.
In their conclusion, watching TV leads to obesity through a number of ways. The first and most obvious is the fact that children do not burn any calories as they sit fiddling with the remote control all day long.
By nature, children are meant to play. Whether one looks at humans, monkeys, lions or hyenas, the young of all these animals are in constant play.
Television is the unnatural intruder since it slows down physical activity in children.
It is impossible to see obese antelopes or lions at the Maasai Mara because they play a lot.
In captivity, however, many animals become obese, just like children who do not play and instead rely too much on electronic gadgets.
Beyond reduced activity, children eat more (junk) food while inactive. This happens for two reasons.
The first is the reality that the fridge is near and any left overs are easy to get to.
A child playing outside the home has less access to snacks than one who is inside the house. Any visual cues of food near them is a sign to eat, be it a biscuit or cake, left lying around. Sadly, the more the child eats the more he has to eat. Manufacturers of junk food and drinks are aware of this and insert food and drink adverts on the screen to “remind” children to eat and drink.
The third and less obvious reason is that as a child watches TV or something on the phone he is less conscious of what is going on in the body.
Some children regularly wet themselves as they watch cartoons. Engrossed on the screen, the child is unaware of the fullness of the bladder and only becomes aware of it when it is too late to rush to the toilet.
In a similar way, a child eating while watching TV is unaware of the sensation of being full. He eats in a mechanical way and keeps on eating even as the body tells him to stop.
What I have said about childhood obesity above will apply to speech development in your five-year-old.
Speech develops in a social context and the more a child interacts with adults and other children the more vocabulary they learn. In this regard, I suggest that you take your neighbour seriously.
The article was first published in The Business Daily.
The author is a mental health consultant who has authored several scientific papers and books.