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Niamh Greene: Ok, kids shouldn't watch Frozen on a loop ... but you can't ban all TV time

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Frozen.

Frozen.

Boy watching TV.

Boy watching TV.

Frozen.

For some of us, there's nothing as relaxing as stretching out in front of the TV after a hard day.

With the remote control, a cup of tea and some biscuits to hand, we can zone out. It's often very easy to channel surf and then come around only to realise that a few hours have whizzed by.

It might make us feel vaguely guilty to be sucked into watching mindless entertainment like this, but we make excuses for ourselves because we need a break and what harm can it be doing us really?

Unfortunately, the answer is quite a lot. Being a couch potato isn't just bad for the body, it's bad for the mind too.

That's for adults - the consequences are even worse when it comes to our kids.

According to research from the ESRI, toddlers who watch three hours of TV a day can become educationally stunted, emotionally aggressive and even physically weak. Excessive time in front of a screen is also strongly linked to obesity and ill health.

It can also affect how your kids interact with their peers and cause hyperactivity.

Three hours of TV may sound like a lot, but when you break it down into chunks of time, it's easy to see how it can add up.

Lots of children start watching cartoons way before breakfast, so they could clock up an hour or more before they even leave the house.

In the evenings, parents are often frazzled getting ready for the next day, maybe trying to fit in some housework or cook dinner.

That's at least another hour or two that kids can sit motionless in front of the screen, maybe snacking on sugary treats as they do.

And if they have a TV in their bedroom (which many do) then you can tack more time onto that total again.

common

And TVs are just one element. These days children are exposed to technology far earlier than they ever were before. Babies in prams are given phones instead of rattles to keep them amused, and it's common to see toddlers with i-pads and game consoles in restaurants, as their parents tap away on their mobile phones.

Giving a child an electronic device to keep him distracted might seem harmless enough, but cognitive and emotional damage could be the end result.

According to the ESRI research, too much screen time can lead to problem behaviours such as hyperactivity, anxiety and difficulties relating to other children.

It's a worrying prospect and one that's bound to heap even more guilt on the shoulders of hard-working parents who are trying to do the best that they can day to day.

Many parents do allow their children to watch TV - or Frozen on a loop - more than they really ought to.

It's often the easiest option when they need to tidy up, make a few phone calls or even have half an hour of precious undisturbed time to themselves.

babysitting

Taking care of children is hard work and sometimes a parent will do whatever it takes to get a bit of peace and quiet.

It's not a crime, but the problem is that it's easy for the time spent in front of various screens to creep up without anyone noticing. TV can become a babysitting service and reading, imaginative play and outdoor activities can be sidelined, all to the child's detriment.

This doesn't mean that TV has to be the enemy. I have happy memories of cuddling up on the sofa with my children to watch Disney movies and it's something we still love to do together.

TV can be educational and fun, as can the Internet. But moderation and common sense are key. Too much of anything isn't a good idea.

As responsible, loving parents, we should lead by example.

So maybe next time we're tempted to slob on the sofa and watch another episode of the Kardashians, we should put down the remote control, put on a coat and go for a long walk in the park with the kids instead.


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