Television and your young child

Between working a full day and taking care of your family, it is sometimes easier to let your child sit in front of the television while you prepare supper. He seems happy enough, you know where he is and he is not around your feet as you are already tired by this time of day. But are the programmes your child is watching educational or does it stress him out? Here are a few guidelines when choosing a program for your child.

Experience of the program

Your child can experience a program as either positive or negative even though he might not tell you what his experience of the program is. Even though your child might seem to enjoy the show, it can cause him to become anxious or have nightmares. A lot of children will rather watch television than being creative or go out to play and they will seldom switch off the television when they don’t enjoy a show. A negative experience of a television program may increase his level of anxiety and frustration and while you think he is relaxing, this is not the case. When you eventually switch off the television, your child is acting out what he saw on television and you have a child with difficult behaviour.

Level of concentration

A child will remember a story and events depending on his level of concentration while watching the program. A child, who can remember the detail, will likely be able to repeat phrases and actions afterwards. Should your child watch a program where they use foul language or aggressive behaviour, he will likely use the same words or repeat the aggressive behaviour in his play. Before you give your child permission to watch a program, evaluate the language and actions displayed.

Unconscious experiences

Unconscious experiences get stored in the unconscious part of the brain and are projected through play. It can also be the cause for fights on the playground or nightmares.

What he hears

This refers to dialogue and music used in the show. “Heavy metal” music and music with a fast rhythm might make your child feel anxious and more energised. The anxiousness and energy will again be projected in his play. Programmes with calmer music will make your child more relaxed.

Ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy

Young children do not yet have the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. What they see and hear on television is experienced as real. A child that gets caught up in the fantasy world of a television program will explore the behaviour during play. Many children tried to fly like Superman or jump like Spiderman, with negative and painful outcomes. There are a lot of programmes with even more extreme and negative superpowers than those mentioned above.


Choose age-appropriate programmes for your child to watch. Children should not be allowed to watch stories with age restrictions. It is a parent’s responsibility to determine if a program is suitable for your child to watch, and not the responsibility of the broadcaster. What is age appropriate? When you have seen the program and know that it will not have in any way a negative effect on your child, that the story is understandable to him and it is educational for his age.

Experiences from the past

If a child had a previous experience that is alike as what he sees on television he will most likely identify with the character. If the character handles his problems with aggression, your child might do the same.

Identification with characters

Stories for children usually have a hero and villain. Your child can identify with any of these characters. If your child identifies with the villain, he might show the same behaviour of the character. In some stories the hero and villain both have supernatural powers with unacceptable behaviour. Make sure that all the characters’ behaviour is acceptable. In a fable such as Cinderella, the stepmother and sisters are the villains, but there is no aggressive behaviour or swearing. This is an example of an acceptable children story.


What is it that your child sees on television? Are the characters dragons and witches that scare him and causes nightmares? Fast movements and violence can also cause nightmares and unacceptable behaviour. The program can also be over-stimulating. Rather choose a program without violence and weird characters that is relaxing and fun to watch.


A parent should supervise what a child is watching. If necessary you can switch off the television or give parental guidance where necessary. Rather let your child play, it is much more educational and relaxing that sitting in front of the television. Do not let television take over your family time and keep television time as short as possible.

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