I know about the studies that say children under the age of two shouldn’t watch any TV at all. Well, at least I know this is the recommendation of the
I have partaken of much hand-wringing over the level of unnecessary violence our children are exposed to on television. It is my constant source of outrage that the On-Demand menu for our cable company runs adult movie previews 24/7 in the corner of the screen. And although Husband (who works for said company in customer service) swears that these previews are carefully screened for offensive language during daytime hours, I am here to tell you that they are certainly not that carefully screened for offensive content during daytime hours. Dialogue I have heard recently, at 10am as I am looking for an episode of Little Bear for Son, has included:
“And where is your wife now?”
“I killed her.” [from some movie with Anthony Hopkins in it]
I realize this post doesn’t look like it’s going in the direction of a defense of TV, but I’m getting there. I actually think there are some excellent reasons to let little kids watch carefully chosen programming. The channel Noggin, for example, gets my vote any time of day for its lack of commercials, diverse characters, and highly creative ideas. (Except for that horror-on-wheels show called Lazy Town, which I viscerally hate for reasons I can’t even articulate because it’s just so visceral.)
Here, in no particular order, are some of the benefits I think selective TV-watching confers:
Cultural literacy. Now, some people might argue that knowing who Sponge Bob Square Pants is doesn’t really help you much in the world, and that this is a waste of perfectly good brain cells. Actually, I agree. But last week at dinner, Son asked me if I knew who Moby Dick was. MOBY DICK! “Yes,” I said. “Where did you hear about Moby Dick?” “On Little Bill,” he said serenely (he loves this show). “And who is Moby Dick?” I asked him? “A giant whale,” he responded. At the age of nearly-four, he did not then launch into an extended discussion of the existential battle of wills between Ahab and the great white whale. In fact, he told me with certainty that Moby Dick is blue. Nonetheless, the fact that he already knows the name and has the association with a whale gives me hope that he might even read the book someday. Maybe I’m deluding myself. But maybe not.
Awareness of the existence of other languages. Son was singing the Vamanos song from Dora the Explorer that same evening while dancing around the family room. I asked him what “vamanos” meant. “Everybody let’s go,” he promptly responded. I asked him if he could count in Spanish. “uno, dos, tres, cinco, say-tay, quarto, och-to, seis, nine, diez” he responded. Okay, it leaves a little something to be desired. But when our Hungarian friends were over a few weeks ago, he whispered to me, “They aren’t speaking English. But are they speaking Spanish?” His voice clearly registered doubt. So at least he’s got the idea that different people speak different languages, and that there might even be more of those languages than just the ones he knows and Dora knows.
Expanded vocabulary. “What does inspire mean?” Son had asked me that morning. I explained it meant that you got so excited about something that you just had to do it yourself, and then I asked him where he’d heard the word. “The boy chef said it to the girl chef in Ratatouille. ‘You inspire me.’” “Well,” I said, “that means the girl chef is so good at cooking that it makes the boy chef very excited to try it himself.” And that night, when I asked Son if he could remember what inspire meant, he actually explained it back to me. He has since, more than once, tried to work the word inspire into a sentence.
Let me state for the record that I’m not taking creative liberties with the time scale here. We really had all these conversations in one day. Lest you become afraid that I am one of those horribly pushy mamas who wants to make her kids precociously thinky, keep in mind that there must have been TV as a catalyst for each of these moments—which actually slants the balance in favor of TV over thinky conversations. (What can I say? It was day 10 of vacation with no daycare, and day 2 of being unable to leave the house due to the weather.)
There are lots of other things kids learn from TV: the fun of cooking (even for boys!), manners, problem-solving skills, story-telling, honesty, and the fact that animals can talk when we’re not looking. Sure, “punching bad guys” might also be one of those things. But you don’t have to let them watch Power Rangers. And you don’t have to let them watch the 4 hours per day that the AAP says most American kids average.
But I’ve decided you (read: I) also don’t have to feel guilty about the 30 minutes a day that enables you (me) to shower and get dressed without having physically to remove the clinging life-form from your (my) ankles, or the 40 minutes that lets you (me) make dinner while checking email and paying bills. (Yes, I’m obsessively a multi-tasker.)
In fact, I could go on and on about the benefits to Mommy of kid TV time, the primary one of which is the high dose of sanity that comes with judicious usage of the Giant Screen of Distraction and Peace. But that wouldn’t really be fair to list as a benefit to kids. Unless not being throttled by a Mommy pushed over the edge of reason by the thirty-third poking fight of the day counts as a benefit to kids.
Of course, we should choose our kids’ programming wisely, and we should know what they’re watching, and we should limit how much they watch to ensure they get plenty of exercise, do art projects, read books, and generally stimulate their brains. But as long as we’re also trying to get thinky with them a few times a day, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about taking advantage of what our mothers called “the boob tube.” The kids might actually learn something. And being a mommy is hard enough as it is. Guilt-free parenting should be the New Year’s Resolution of all mommies in 2008. At least, as long as Pinky Dinky Doo captures the kids’ attention.
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Want more info on actual studies on TV and children? Check out the following, all of which contain references to the medical studies on whose conclusions the news stories are based:
CNN article with lots of interesting statistics about TV viewing habits of American children, without much in the way of conclusions about what the data mean.
CBC article on a study that found an increased risk of attention problems in children who watched violent shows as pre-schoolers. Particularly interesting: the assessment that “violent” shows include even cartoons some parents assume are appropriate for young children because the violence is not bloody or graphic. Think Loony Tunes or Rugrats. Though my two cents says that any of us who try to avoid violent images for our kids have already figured out that being squashed by an anvil is violent and not something we want as part of the Toddler vs. Preschooler repertoire.
Fox story on a study linking too much TV time to difficulty in managing juvenile diabetes.
Reuters story on links between TV watching, childhood obesity, and increased blood pressure.
WebMD article based on a study published in Pediatrics that links increase in TV time to decrease in school-aged kids’ grades.
Slate article summarizing a study that found no correlation between increased TV viewing and reduction in school performance. (Yes, a study directly contradicting the findings of the Pediatrics study published above…see how much fun doing research to figure out how to be a good mama can be?!)
To TV or not to TV? Within what parameters? Please weigh in!