TV or not TV? That is the Question.

November 9th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

I am not a silent reader. I respond audibly to my reading material, either sharing it aloud or else groaning or cheering as the case requires.

Had you been in my neighborhood when I read a recent article on children’s television in the Wall Street Journal, you would have first heard a moan followed closely by a growl. The article, entitled, ‘The Turf War for Tots,’ explored the competition for tiny eyes between Nickelodeon and the Walt Disney Company. The battle was presented as pitting educational programming vs. entertaining storytelling.

My moan was precipitated by this sentence, “Preschoolers aged 2 to 5 spend an average of more than 32 hours in front of a TV screen each week, according to Nielsen.” The growl?  That came when I read this gem, “…Disney researchers found that when parents were asked what they most want for their children, the most popular reply was for them to be happy.”

Call me a curmudgeon, but I think children’s happiness is a terrible thing for which to aim. Happiness is a delightful by-product, not a worthwhile goal. The more one pursues it, the less reachable it becomes.

In addition to basic needs such as food and shelter, children need a secure, affectionate, structured and responsive environment.  If their imaginations and intellects have opportunities to expand and their bodies and souls have room to grow–they will be happy.  

TV, I’m afraid, makes achieving many of those goals more difficult. The link between TV watching and lack of physical exercise is often touted. But that is a minor drawback compared to other areas. I can’t cite scientifically based studies and I was certainly not interested in conducting experiments with my own children, perhaps raising half of them with TV and half without. But, having watched my children and those of most of my friends’ grow up without a TV, I saw their creative play and abilities to entertain themselves soar. Rather than self-medicating boredom with a television screen, they responded to the discomfort of being at loose ends with sparks of resourcefulness.

Was the ability to entertain themselves more evident in post-preschool years? Certainly. Books, puzzles, activities and crafts have limited appeal for a toddler without an adult or older child’s participation. Unfortunately, TV is not a worthy replacement playmate. Leaving aside the potential physiological effect on the developing eyes and brain, it makes the preschooler a passive recipient. It may keep the child quiet, but at a cost. Counting to ten with Elmo is not the same as counting to ten with Mommy and neither Dora the Explorer nor Kai-lan Chow, the cartoon character who teaches Mandarin Chinese, do so with hugs and tickles. My personal conviction is that the more TV a child watches from birth to age five or so, the less capable he will be of independent entertainment and learning as he moves beyond the preschool years.

I know first-hand the struggle to find time to take a shower, the mind-numbing effect of reading Hop on Pop hundreds of time and the frustration of trying to accomplish any adult activity with a three year old at hand. With hindsight, I also know how fleeting those early years are and how impressionable minds deserve to be given loving, personal attention rather than an electronic visual distraction in the guise of either education or entertainment.

 

 

 

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4 comments

Yes,most mothers agree that they’d rather have the time and energy to devote 100% of their time to their kids…but when they’re little (and can’t be left alone to be resourcefully creative with their boredom), how would you recommend a mom get that precious shower time or deal with an important phone call? Could there be a compromise where parents allow certain pre-approved videos?
My own children, even when older, shared some wonderful screen time with certain others, and now fondly recall the classic films they viewed. My daughter just watched Palm Beach Story again, and it brought back those warm-fuzzies of friendship and good times past.

Yes,most mothers agree that they’d rather have the time and energy to devote 100% of their time to their kids…but when they’re little (and can’t be left alone to be resourcefully creative with their boredom), how would you recommend a mom get that precious shower time or deal with an important phone call? Could there be a compromise where parents allow certain pre-approved videos?
My own children, even when older, shared some wonderful screen time with certain others, and now fondly recall the classic films they viewed. My daughter just watched Palm Beach Story again, and it brought back those warm-fuzzies of friendship and good times past.

susan says:

I understand your point, but we are talking pre-school here. You can’t leave a three year old with a friend and go take a shower even if a video is on. On the other hand, a three year old can be sat down with a toy and told that Mommy needs to make a phone call and given a sand timer or some visual aid and told told that he mustn’t talk to Mommy until the sand runs out. You need to practice this before its truly needed.
I’m not the country’s motherhood czar. I’m expressing my personal negative reaction to hearing that on average pre-schoolers spend 32 hours a week (!) in front of the TV or video. I’m sure there are many parents who at first use TV as an “emergency” measure. But the more you begin to rely on video or TV the more you need to rely on it. It is an appetite that grows and easily becomes a needed crutch.
It takes effort to form relationships with other parents so you can help each other, to have a good marriage so there are two of you instead of one and to organize sleep and quiet time so you know there is a period when your child is not awake and running around. I think all those options are far healthier than making TV a young child’s companion.

susan says:

I understand your point, but we are talking pre-school here. You can’t leave a three year old with a friend and go take a shower even if a video is on. On the other hand, a three year old can be sat down with a toy and told that Mommy needs to make a phone call and given a sand timer or some visual aid and told told that he mustn’t talk to Mommy until the sand runs out. You need to practice this before its truly needed.
I’m not the country’s motherhood czar. I’m expressing my personal negative reaction to hearing that on average pre-schoolers spend 32 hours a week (!) in front of the TV or video. I’m sure there are many parents who at first use TV as an “emergency” measure. But the more you begin to rely on video or TV the more you need to rely on it. It is an appetite that grows and easily becomes a needed crutch.
It takes effort to form relationships with other parents so you can help each other, to have a good marriage so there are two of you instead of one and to organize sleep and quiet time so you know there is a period when your child is not awake and running around. I think all those options are far healthier than making TV a young child’s companion.

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