Friday, April 27, 2007

Is the tube making your toddler a boob?

The subject of TV watching has been high on my mind lately because of two things:

1. About a month ago, our cable company decided to extend our basic subscription (which we need just to get a decent picture of our local stations). We suddenly had tons of channels for our same monthly rate. I didn't cancel it right away because some of the shows really are cute for kids. But sheesh! We had to completely revisit our television watching convictions because there is ALWAYS something "good" on to watch. After tolerating more than our usual share of the mind-numbing novelty of it all, I finally put my foot down. The TV stays off more now than it ever did before.

2. I've been reading The Epidemic, by Robert Shaw, MD, which has a chapter which minces no words on the evils of television and media (no news here). He recommends family viewing of no more than 2-3 hours per WEEK (no, we are not there yet, but I'd like to see us edging ever closer).

Then there's this article the other day about toddler TV viewing in Fox News:

Saturday morning cartoons are no longer the singular domain of children's television. Televisions are popping up in the back of cars, and the even-smaller screen of portable media players allow kids to play videos and watch DVDs virtually anywhere.

Entire cable channels are aimed at children who barely eat solid foods, but not everyone agrees that the boob tube is the best place for young children to gain an education. A 2006 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in spite of the continued debate over the possible harmful effects of television on young children, many parents still believe that the benefits of watching television outweigh the risks.

The researchers studied children ages 6 months to 6 years old, and found that 61 percent of babies younger than one-year-old watched TV or videos for more than an hour each day. One-third of all children in the study had a TV in their bedroom.

Over half of the parents surveyed said the main reason for putting a TV in their child's room was so that they or other family members could watch their own television programs.

The article goes on to list "educational" TV sources such as BabyFirst TV which describes itself as an "interactive tool for parents to engage their infants and toddlers ranging from 6 months to 3 years." According to Fox News, "the program content focuses on the development of language, math and sensory skills, creative play and muscle development."

I can't help but wonder, what muscles are being developed?

And then there's Baby Einstein, which says, "We do not believe that their recommendation of no television for children under the age of two reflects the reality of today's parents, families and households – for example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 68 percent of all babies under two years old watch screen media on any given day. The Baby Einstein Company believes that when used properly, developmentally-appropriate video content can be a useful tool for parents and little ones to enjoy together."

The "reality of today's parent" is that parents are letting their two-year-olds run their homes. Parents are too weak-willed and/or frazzled to turn the tube off (I have been there, trust me!).

"Developmentally-appropriate video content" sounds all nice and good, but what I hear them saying is that they see 68% of all babies as a potential marketplace in which to make money. It makes me feel a little ill.

Yes, we watch some TV. There have been days/months/years where we've watched a LOT of TV. I have been that frazzled/weak-willed parent, letting my kids watch TV because I didn't have the mental wherewithal to keep a little one constructively occupied. Or sometimes a big one.

From the beginning, though, we've tried to apply the "moderation in all things" principle - finding that delicate balance between no TV at all, and allowing TV to be the primary background to life. Sometimes we swing a little too far one way or another, but most of the time, we at least land where the TV is not dictating our social calendar.

In general, we are careful about what we watch, especially compared to what some might consider a "typical" American family. When our big kids were small, I was much less particular about the amount of time spent watching, as long as it was a quality program. But as they've gotten older, I have realized that too much even of "good" media is just bad. I can tell it in my kids when they've had too much "screen time," and it doesn't matter if it's from quality TV shows, an educational computer program, or a mindless Nintendo game. Overall, I have to agree with Dr. Shaw when I say that the bad definitely outweighs the good.

I'll leave you with a quote from Shaw's book that has had me pondering for days:
It's almost as if the more bad news we get about media influence in children's lives, the more lax parents become about allowing kids to overdose on it. What possesses these parents, who most definitely know better?

The simplest that they need to keep kids busy. But watching TV is hardly the only way to keep them busy.

Why are parents choosing it, then?

Because it's easy, because cultural pressures push it, because they feel the need to conform to the lifestyles around them. They are unprepared to parent in the way that is best for their children -- the harder, more demanding, the more involved way -- so they rationalize taking the easy route. They've been assured by our toxic society that it's okay, everyone is doing it. It's similar to how we once viewed smoking -- everyone knew it was bad but no one stopped.

Yet as we look deeper into this issue, we can see that it's also about diminishing and obscuring the very need for parenting. All that electronic entertainment replaces the need for Mom and Dad - most unfortunately - that loving communicative dance in which children grow, develop literacy, and become able to learn and manage themselves in a productive way. (Emphasis mine)
Don't even get me started about TV in cars (for that 10 minute trip to the store...heaven forbid you should talk to your kids!) ...


Anonymous said...

We don't allow TV much in our family either. I think I let them watch about one video a month and I feel so guilty about it! It is hard though when you are fighting against the culture and all your family members. I have one family member who turns the TV on the min I leave the house when they are watching my kids! Ugh!

Susanne said...

We watch way too much. I admit it. But now that spring and summer is here, that'll tone down a lot. I will, however, never ever have a tv in the vehicle.

mamashine said...

We watch too much. I try to be careful with what it is, at least, and I do that rationalizing thing of "oh, but she's learning something..." I will say I like to sit and watch Go Diego Go with her because there are so many animals on there I didn't know anything about.
But then there are times when I put Peter Pan on and stick her in the playroom and breathe a sigh of relief that I have 73 minutes without questions from her. And I do feel bad about that. I know there are other ways I could get a break. But the tv is laziest and easiest.

We have a portable dvd player but it only comes in the car with us on trips over three hours and I don't turn it on until we've exhausted everything else we brought to do. I hate seeing people on really short trips using them, because it is so fun to talk to your kids in the car!

and then I took up your comment section with a novel... maybe I should write a post on this...

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Oh dear. When I first saw the title of this post as I skimmed my Bloglines today, I gotta tell ya, I intentionally moved right past it. I knew if I read it I would be accountable! But I knew I needed to read it. We are HORRIBLE about letting D watch too much TV. And really, for one of the very reasons you pointed out - I often get too frazzled to think of another activity for her . . . or worse yet, I am bored and want to do my own thing for a while. Wow, it feels horrible to say that, but it's true. And what makes it even worse is she LOVES to watch TV - Dora, Diego, Blue, Thomas . . . the list goes on. Some kids aren't that into TV, but D is in a big way.

I have been feeling particularly guilty about this issue lately and I know the Lord is prompting a change here. I have just continued to fight Him on it!

Thanks for writing this today. Timely, as always . . .

Anonymous said...

We have avoided TV with our now two year old twins. It has been very tempting at times, though. But I do agree that the disadvantages definately outweigh the advantages on this one.

Lori - Queen of Dirty Laundry said...

I will confess to letting my pre-schooler watch too much Noggin during the day. I try to justify it by saying, "But there are no commercials," and "but I have to get some work done!" But I know we need to cut it way, way down.

We do also have a DVD player in our van, but it absolutely does not get turned on unless we're gonna be in the car for more than an hour. That's usually only for trips out of town, or all-day errand marathons in town.

Anonymous said...

We don't have cable so the only stuff my children watch is through children's videos. We don't own a lot. We never let our oldest watch videos until after she was two but our second got to watch earlier b/c her big sister did. There are days that the TV isn't even turned on.

This quote says it so well . . . "They are unprepared to parent in the way that is best for their children -- the harder, more demanding, the more involved way -- so they rationalize taking the easy route."

Being a non-TV family I find it is definitely more demanding and involved to parent my children this way. However, it is far more rewarding for them and for us! I have a girlfriend who lets her little guy sit in front of the TV most of the day because it allows her to get things done without interruption. My girls are always on my heels but they love to help and get involved. My motto is that if I take the time to let them help now, they'll be willing to help in the future. If not, they'll be pulling away to watch TV when I really want their help. (Too much rambling now . . . better run.)

Anonymous said...

We used to use tv a lot, then we cancelled cable and moved to videos (DVDs)and now--well, Rachel can go without anti-seizure medicine as long as she is away from flashes--including the screen refresh rate on television (computer and DS don't seem to bother her) so we have pretty much given up on tv, even moved it out of the family room. The best bit is now grandparents can't plop them in front of tv (often what is offensive to us) when they visit because Rachel can't be in the same room.

The most amazing thing we found when we stopped watching was how much more time we had to do other things--people ask us all the time how we have time to do all we do--the answer is that we don't watch tv. :)

Joyfulness said...

This is such a struggle. I really don't like my children watching too much TV, yet it seems to happen quite a bit... or they'll move from the TV right onto games on the computer. Even though we do try to stick mostly to educational stuff, it can still be too much. And I'm so pregnant and tired that I haven't the energy to implement new rules (or enforce old ones) right now... but I hope to after the baby comes and life settles down... Thanks for the reminder about how important it is.

kittyhox said...

I'm feeling convicted about this issue because I let our one year old watch Sesame Street every day. It's just so convenient and always makes him happy.

It's one of those cases where, yet again, I'm not turning out to be exactly the mom I always thought I'd be. :(

This is an issue I really need to address and readdress as our son gets older and as our family grows.

I agree, I would never have a DVD player in the car. I was an only child and am eagerly looking forward to the backseat bickering I always longed for. I think time in the car together, without diversions, is a great opportunity to bond and builds character.

Sarah said...

Amen sister! I too have fallen into the lazy, selfish reasons for letting my Emma watch movies and I am feeling VERY convicted right now. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting these thoughts on your blog, it's something I've been working on/thinking about for a long time, now you have helped me affirm for myself that there needs to be some changes.

Unknown said...


Hope you're feeling better.

I have thoughts on this issue! My husband and I have cut down our TV watching--drastically. He watches some sports, and there are probably 2 shows that we enjoy watching each week. As for the kids--they both like the TV. I do moderate what they watch, and to some extent when they watch, but I know that my preschoolers really have learned from TV (and books, and conversations with me). And, yes, it's easy--for me.

As for the TV in the car, dh just bought a last-year model off the lot, decked out, so it includes a DVD player. I would not want it in my car (carrying the kids all the time), because I know it would be a constant argument, and I don't think it should be on all the time. We have borrowed one before for our 6 hour trips (especially when we are driving at night and the kids can't entertain themselves).

Christine said...

Amen!! Now that I've been on bedrest, the TV has been on a bit more than usual and so this is a season when I'm not pushing it. But for us a bit more means an hour a day. We will be adamant about our no TV/computer in their room rule (we don't have one in our room either) and we are also highly vigilant about what they watch. Our 6 year old has never seen a PG movie. The kids have been enjying cooking shows with me, though, as I lay on the couch.

I had the baby on Monday, though, so no more bedrest and I'll be back to my old TV-ogre self soon! I don't know how you did bedrest with 4 pregnancies!


Anonymous said...

We caved in and bought a dvd player for the car last year when I had to make a six hour drive by myself with Lou. She was in the habit of screaming from the house to the grocery store to the point of throwing up. I had no idea how to get her six hours into another state. The dvd player was a lifesaver. She did not make a peep the entire trip and even slept a little to the music of the dvd. It was wonderful. However, aside from a few other times that we had to spend a prolonged time in the car, it's sat unused.

As far as tv at home...I'm grateful for the few shows that Lou will watch at 4:30 a.m. when she wakes up repeatedly at that time. I simply cannot function so early and I'm grateful for the small bits she gets in.

All that said - I loved your post and took it to heart!!

joyfuljourney said...


I really needed to read this. Thank you for your honesty. Before I became a mom, I thought this wouldn't be an issue. I would never use the TV as a babysitter. Well...I was a better mom before I had kids!!!

This Mother's Day weekend, I'm finding myself very reflective about the job I'm doing as Mom. This post was very timely and convicting.

Thank you!