ALMOST every household has at least one set. It is a source of entertainment and education, an essential lifestyle item in society. However, the television has also been branded the idiot box and blamed for obesity in adults and children.
A common grouse among parents is that their children watch too much TV. However, the quality of programmes viewed and parental participation can make a big difference to what the child absorbs.
Author and parental coach Zaid Mohamad said top worries among parents today include unsuitable content – inappropriate language, violence, negative influence and lack of values.
Another concern is that watching television is a passive and non-interactive activity. “However, television is neither good nor bad. It’s just a tool,” he said. “Used correctly, it is a good tool.”
As a whole, Zaid agrees that Malaysian children watch too much television and view inappropriate programmes.
“This is mainly due to the lack of good parenting skills in parents or caregivers,” said Zaid, 41, the author of Smart Parents, Brighter Kids which was launched last August. The book, which is also listed in Singapore’s National Library, sold 1,000 copies within a month here and has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia.
A father of two boys and two girls aged between six and 15, Zaid, a senior manager with a multinational corporation, added that setting limits is part of discipline and time management in parenting strategies. “I encourage my children to watch TV, play with computers or surf the Internet but it is very important to set limits,” said Zaid, also author of Smart Parents, Richer Kids.
Just how much television is too much?
For children below two, the general rule is no television at all.
“For preschoolers, two hours a day is the maximum, especially continuous watching, because by then the mind will not absorb any more information,” added Zaid. Between two and 12 years, a child’s brain development and learning depend on stimulation and responses. “As parents, we need to provide them with lots of stimulation. The right programmes with the right responses and stimulation equals learning opportunities."
Zaid strongly advocates that parents practise interactive television viewing with their children. This involves repeating phrases and questions heard during a good quality educational programme or cartoon. “Use television as a learning tool. Ask them what they learnt from a programme and reinforce the values that some cartoons teach.
“Although watching television is a passive activity, we can turn it around and make it an active and engaging session with the family.”
After the programme, he added, ask which character the child would like to be or what happened at the beginning of the story. Re-enact activities after the show or teach kids how to help others based on what they saw.
“Good television programmes can help build leadership skills via role models and good characters. If a character is violent and hits someone, ask your child if he sees any bad behaviour. Then offer alternative solutions on how the character should have spoken up instead of hitting someone.”
“Each child will have a different reaction to violent scenes. Not all children will go out and re-enact violence scenes, for example. We cannot completely cut out violence from their lives but parental guidance is very important.”
Although the television can be an educational tool, many parents tend to use it as an electronic babysitter. “The television is not a substitute for our love and attention. Use television time as bonding time. Be with them, ask questions related to what’s going on.
“Used rightly, programmes can stimulate the child’s brain and also provide a leisure activity. For example, get up with the kids and sing and dance along with the characters on television.”
Zaid advised parents to leverage television to their benefit because it can generate family bonding and produce happy, brighter kids.
“Television, computers or game consoles are part of modern living. It’s a matter of balancing these and other material things with love and time spent with your children. With lots of love, things will fall into place,” said Zaid, whose wife is a homemaker.