TV. Oh those two letters have so much behind them. Is it ok? How much is too much? What programs should be allowed? These questions come up all the time. I am a mom of a very active 8 month old. I'm more prone to read and knit, but do I ever want to sit in front of the TV and "veg" out some nights? Sure! However, do I let my son veg on TV? No way!
As a speech therapist (and a mom), I suggest that kids not watch TV (not even baby learning videos) from birth until age 2. There are several reasons. The first is that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children not watch TV at all from birth to age 2 (http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx). Secondly, I have read in the past that kids under the age of 2 do not see the flashes of color on the screen like we do. Their little brains can't interpret the colors fast enough to know what they are looking at on the screen. They say that their little brains get overloaded and it simply shuts down. So instead of learning, they too are "vegging" in front of the TV. Therefore, even the baby learning DVDs that move slowly and show the child the name of the object and the object at the same time are not better than you yourself doing that. Watch your child (or any small child) sometime. They will take a new object and stare at it for a long time. He/She needs that time to see it clearly and figure it out. They are learning with their hands (how it feels), their eyes (what they see), their mouth (what it feels like and tastes like), their ears (what does it sound like when it shakes) - all these things are not available when its being viewed via the television. Lastly, children need HUMAN INTERACTION. The TV, even though it has humans on the screen, is NOT human interaction.
Now, what about kids ages 2 and older? Again, the AAP suggests 1-2 hours of AGE APPROPRIATE shows after the age of 2 (same link as above: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx). Watch an adult show and pay attention to every time the stimulus changes. What do I mean by that? A stimulus change could be: camera zooming in or out, camera angle change, change scene all together, dialogue when both speakers are not in the picture and so the screen flashes back and forth, etc. You will notice that the stimulus is changing every few seconds, on average. Our children are very vulnerable and their minds can be trained very easily. Adult TV with their fast stimulus changes can actually show a child that his/her stimulus should also change as rapidly. What happens when that child sits down to play with a toy? It may not change enough for them and they may lose interest.
Alright, what about older kids and teenagers? My suggestion is always less TV. Turn it off and learn what's going on around you. Play outdoors. Play a game. Games teach kids many things like: social rules (taking turns, being patient, winning gracefully, losing without pouting), counting, matching, colors, strategy, etc. Plus, the more interaction you have with your child the more opportunities you have to teach him/her.
Turn off the tube and play with your little ones!