Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Other Advice

How much television should I let my 17-month-old watch?

Should I allow my 17-month-old to watch TV or videos every day and for how long should he be watching? He is beginning to show signs of wanting to watch TV when he can’t find anything else to do. Also, how do I monitor what is suitable for him?

Most of us are aware of the statistics relating to small children and how much TV they watch daily. Clearly, when children watch TV, they are not actively engaged in any other kind of play or physical activity. Consequently, too much television is not good for a child’s creative development or for their health.

Your son is little, so you are in full control of how much TV he is allowed to watch. You may need to do a bit of research on what is available to under-fives, and if you have cable or satellite TV, there are many more options to consider. Videos are slightly easier to monitor, but again decide sensible limits as to when and for how long your son can watch. Video/DVD viewing should be included in the daily amount you allow for TV in general. Most videos for small children are divided into small chunks, but getting to the off-switch at the right time is crucial.

TV and video form part of most children’s leisure time, so set some limits to make it an enjoyable part of your son’s day, but not an easy option that he turns to when he can’t think of anything else to do. At his age, half an hour a day is about right. This may be a video before bedtime when he has his milk. Alternatively, it could be mid-morning if he is an early riser and needs a quiet time in his day. Decide when he is allowed to watch and stick with your plan. You can always record a suitable children’s programme and then let him watch it at the time you have set aside.

Using the TV as a babysitter is tempting but not advisable. Ideally, you should sit with him and talk to him about what he is watching. Small children are less likely to fall into a TV trance if they watch with an adult who interacts with them. Comment on what is happening, sing the songs together or make the craft projects. In this way TV will become a fun and educational experience.

It may also be interesting to monitor your own viewing habits. Do you put the TV on during the day for company? Do you or your partner sit in front of sport on a Saturday afternoon? You need to set an example, so use the video recorder and catch up on your favourite programmes when he is having a nap. TV has a place in your child’s world, but teaching that there is an “off” switch as well as an “on” switch is an important part of parenting.