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How to overcome the damaging effect of Screen Time

Screen time is a divisive topic. In today's world, it's almost impossible to reduce screen time to zero, and the fact that probably every parent you know allows their child some screen time, may have you wondering if it's really that bad for children at all. But the the reality is, all screen-time has a drug-like effect on the brain. In the words of an expert on this topic, "screen time  releases dopamine, activates a pleasure / reward cycle and causes the brain to need increasingly more amounts of stimuli, whilst also interfering with the development of the prefrontal cortex - which is already the last part of the brain to develop...brain scans  show the brain damage, patterns of screen-time addicts are similar to those of drug addicts." We've all been there at some point, when moving your child away from the TV causes tantrums, meltdowns and hysteria. 

Whilst this may be alarming to someone who really did not realise how bad the effects could be, there are several ways you can limit the negative, most notably through being aware of what to look for in children's TV programs and what to avoid. Positive screen time is all about quality. 

So what makes an overstimulating TV show: saturated primary colours, scenes that are less than 4 seconds long, mesmerising animation such as floating or twirling objects, flashing letters, interactive elements - even if these are "educational". If a child is instantly mesmerised by a show, it is overstimulating. You want to see your child laughing, talking about the characters, pausing, looking away, asking questions.

One thing that really blew my mind when reading an article on this topic was the fact we all forget - TV shows are made to make money. This is the primary goal. And what makes money is large volumes of audiences. If a child is is hooked to the TV, it will naturally lead to more eyes and more money to the producer. They are incentivised to create content that is overstimulating.

So then, what should one look for in quality screen time? It should be:

  • slow-paced
  • non-interactive
  • muted colour tones
  • language and vocabulary that does not undermine a child's intelligence
  • quality storylines
  • modelling kindness
  • no villains
  • relatable core topics
  • diverse characters
  • sparks of discovery

With this in mind, I've rounded up my top 10 picks for appropriate, quality TV picks:

1. Stillwater (available on Apple+)

2. Puffin Rock (available on Netflix)

3. Mr Rodgers (available on Apple+)

4. Zog (short movie, available on Apple and Amazon Prime)

5. Room on the Broom (short movie, available on Apple and Amazon Prime)

6. Sea of Love (available on Netflix)

7. Duck & Goose (available on Apple+)

8. Trash Truck (available on Netflix)

9. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (available on Amazon Prime)

10. Tumble Leaf (available on Amazon Prime)

Choosing appropriate TV shows for children can be a challenge, but as parents, it's our responsibility to ensure our children watch quality programming that promotes learning, social, and emotional growth while also being entertaining. By selecting age-appropriate shows, educational and entertaining, and paying close attention to the time spent watching, we can ensure that our children receive the best television experience. 

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