Did you know that up to the age of one and a half, it is absolutely not recommended for children to watch TV? This includes background TV. Between the ages of one and a half and two, children can watch TV for a maximum of 20 minutes a day, but only with company. This can possibly be increased to 1 hour per day, but it is still important that are watching with someone else. At this age, exceeding these limits regularly and to a large extent (3 hours a day or more) can cause not only behavioural problems, but also cognitive and speech development lag. Having conversations with relatives through a screen does not fall into this category.
Fortunately, children of preschool age are not as easily distracted by background TV as younger children would be, but it is worth paying attention to whether they hear or see something on TV that they find difficult to process. The current war events are just an encore in the jungle of programs already diluted with advertisements and other commercial information, which is difficult to discuss with children younger than primary school age. In addition, although you can talk about the topics at their level, images from news reports or advertisements don’t really help with this.
The higher their active vocabulary, the more the films and TV shows intended for their age group support the development of their vocabulary. We can also make it a habit that before we start watching TV, we talk to the child a little about what we remember from the last time we saw the show, or we can comment on and discuss the story a little afterwards. This is also important so that the newly acquired vocabulary is transferred from the passive zone to the active zone, and in addition, it is easier for the child to store not only the story, but also the vocabulary in their long-term memory. Of course, it also does not hurt if one show is not immediately followed by the next, but by some other activity, such as a walk, where you can continue to think about your impressions of the show.
However, more and more families no longer have a TV, but more devices with screens, which offer additional opportunities, although enforcing time limits can be difficult.
Good children’s films or games can be recognized by the fact that they enrich the children with some new knowledge or provide good examples of social coexistence. If the children are also learning or practising a foreign language, then you can kill two birds with one stone.
Tablet apps also provide an excellent opportunity for multilingual children, as they ensure interoperability between different languages. You can switch languages in seconds and, for example, you can look up data or even just read instructions in different languages. As a result, children have many more opportunities to encounter written texts.
Writing in a child’s heritage language can also be practised with grandparents who live far away, for example by Zooming and sharing a whiteboard on the screen, which everyone can access and write on.
In addition, even WhatsApp or other similar apps provide an excellent opportunity to actively use written language.
In order for children make the most of these devices in terms of language learning, parents need to be comfortable using the devices too. The more we understand what they can be used for, the better we can pass this on to our children. It is more difficult to teach the balanced and appropriate use of an application for those who either have difficulties using it themselves, or are possibly addicted.
It is like eating. After all, there are so many sweets and unhealthy foods around that it can be dangerous to keep making instinctive decisions about feeding the children. If we let children eat what they want all the time, they could easily end up eating nothing but fast food and sweets, partly because all the advertisements encourage this, partly because they are easily accessible and thirdly because the children will be happy if we offer them such things. Just like we use nutritional information to help us feed our children healthy meals, it is a good idea to be mindful of the criteria that help us use digital devices in a “healthy” way.
Once children are primary school age, it is easier to teach them about the responsible use of digital devices and to draw their attention to the dangers. The quality of these explanations is important from the point of view of language practice, especially considering that we will probably have to repeat them a few times.
Also, once they get older, they may no longer listen to us about what and how much to watch or play. It is worth teaching young children to use devices responsibly, because we will hardly have the opportunity to do so with teenagers.