I realize that we’re an outlier in the entire TV and media discussion because we don’t watch any TV at all. That’s right. When they’re deathly sick we might okay a video once in a blue moon, but I estimate that our three children, ages 2, 6, 9, watch less than twenty hours of TV/movies annually, and zero video or computer games.
Usually when I tell people that they gasp and act uncomfortable, immediately trotting out rather daft rationalizations for why the hour or two of daily TV their own children watch is educational, important, valuable or otherwise important. I mean, we wouldn’t want our six year old to miss an episode of American Idol, would we?
Frankly, being a no media family works really well for us. Our kids are active, sporty, creative and artistic, and always seem to find things to fill the time, whether it’s bicycling, skateboarding, playing on the swings, drawing, reading books, or finding neighborhood kids to play with. It works for us. This doesn’t mean, however, that I think it can work for all families.
With that said, it was darn interesting to read the latest statistics from the recent Kaiser Family Foundation’s research entitled The Media Family. According to that study (as reported by David Kiley in BusinessWeek)…
80% of children under the age of six watch an average of two hours of TV or other “screen media” per day.
Go read that again. Two hours per day. That’s over 700 hours a year, or in any given year, these average children spend 29 days in front of the television or computer screen. That works out to one month out of twelve eaten up by the tube. But let’s look at that a bit further, because realistically kids don’t stay up for 24 hours at a time, so let’s instead calculate that they’re awake 12 hours, and asleep 12 hours each day. Now you can see that two hours per day is really two months per year in front of those infernal devices.
But the data gets more disturbing when you think about that’s just the average amount spent in front of the TV (etc). It’s safe to conclude, therefore, that there are also plenty of kids that watch more than two hours per day, perhaps three, four or even five hours. (home from school at 1pm, then in front of the TV until dinner time. That’d be an easy four hours right there).
Four hours/day is equal to four months/year of television and computer viewing.
Maybe it’s just my bias, but what an incredible waste of their childhood. Where’s the fun? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the physical activity, for that matter?
Even within the study ,the authors couldn’t quite keep a straight face when they suggested that maybe there’s plenty of great TV on and that the two hours isn’t a problem:
“On the positive side of the ledger, research does indicate that well-designed educational programs, such as Sesame Street, can help 4- and 5-year-olds read and count and that children that age also benefit from pro-social messages on TV that teach them about kindness and sharing. On the other hand, studies have also found that exposure to television violence can increase the risk of children behaving aggressively and that media use in early childhood may be related to attentional problems later in life. And while the producers of early childhood media believe their products can help children learn even at the earliest ages, other experts worry that time spent with media may detract from time children spend interacting with their parents, engaging in physical activity, using their imaginations, or exploring the world around them.”
Uh huh. And don’t forget that even that most august [and conservative] of bodies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no media usage at all for children under the age of two. Kaiser found that quite to the contrary, 43% of children in the 0-2 age group watch 1:02 hours of TV daily.
The AAP even says: “Family is the most important influence in a child’s life, but television is not far behind.”
Let’s reinforce the point here. A chart from the Kaiser study:
Screen media in this instance encompasses TV, videos, video games and computers. Not shown in this figure is that 90% of the children 4-6 in the survey – 90% – use some sort of screen media daily. That blows my socks off.
What’s just as fascinating is that the average screen media usage time for the parents isn’t much more than for the 4-6 year old children: for children it averages 1:57, and for their parents, the average is 2:13. Oh, and 43% of kids ages 4-6 have a TV in their bedroom. Somehow I imagine that the amount of time they watch TV is underreported in this situation…
So am I saying that you shouldn’t let your children watch TV at all? No, though I will certainly support your making that decision. I am suggesting that without paying much attention we are giving over control of our children’s minds to TV channels, to advertisers, and to the programming teams who come up with such formulaic productions as Dora the Explorer and Dragon Tales.
I think about it this way: do I want to raise children that will be happy to be cogs in the machine, or do I want to raise creative thinkers who can engage and participate in life?
How about you?