Newswise — Winston-Salem, N.C. -- Night or day, many images — not just the ones adults typically think of as frightening — can be disturbing to young children, says Wake Forest University communication professor Marina Krcmar, whose research includes studies related to children and television viewing.
Recent research published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the television viewing habits of young children, aged three to five, can affect their sleep patterns. Additionally, a U.S. News Health article reports that two-thirds of daycare centers have TVs available for children to watch during the day. Parents can benefit from knowing what their little ones might find scary and how to help.
Krcmar shares the following information related to toddlers and television:
Characters that look benign can still be scary. “Any unusual image may be frightening to a preschooler,” says Krcmar. “Whether a character is ‘good’ or funny is irrelevant. For example, children may find the Count on Sesame Street frightening because of his fangs and unusual hair and clothing.”
Watching older siblings play video games can be disturbing. Younger children may be upset by violent graphics in video games. To preschoolers fighting is fighting, even if it is happening to rescue a princess from a castle.
Hug them, don’t talk to them. It is better to offer physical comfort to young children than to tell them that what they saw on television is make-believe. Young children have a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy until they are about six, so is better to just ensure them they are protected.
Fear generally decreases over time. “If children see something right before bed time, it will be hard for them to settle down and forget about it — especially in a dark room,” Krcmar says. “It’s best to keep the television off in the evenings.”
Krcmar is an expert on children, adolescents and the media. Her research has appeared in Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research, and Media Psychology. She is the author of Living Without the Screen.