8 hours of TV?

We talked quite a bit about TV when Jasper was about to be born. We talked about getting rid of it entirely. We watch what I consider to be a lot of television, though it is perhaps not as much as in some households. It was a lot less before we got a PVR; like many Americans, the number of hours we watch is up. I would say we probably watch somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 hours a week. We’ll usually watch a show during dinner, and maybe the Daily Show as a chaser. That’s a lot of time, and yes, we could replace that with scintillating conversation, but–well, for all the reasons lots of people don’t, we don’t.

But back to Jasper. He’s been exposed to exactly the same amount of TV we have, and until recently, to the same shows. During his first year of life, he generally was uninterested in what appeared on the screen, with the exception of dancing. Now, he will watch our shows for a little bit if something interesting is going on. And, for the first time, we’ve been watching kids shows: Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer.

I know perhaps better than most that exposure to TV has lots of negative outcomes. I more recently ran into a study that looked at TV viewing at 29 months and 53 months, and found that it made the kids fat, innumerate, and picked on by fourth grade. Yes, there are more influential factors, like mother’s education (naturally, Dad’s education doesn’t matter in the aggregate because Dad’s at work?), but I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming at this point: TV is bad for kids.

Only… It sure doesn’t seem that way. Sesame street is way better than I remember it being. Elmo is cloying and annoying as ever, but his name is easy to say. And Dora, while not ideal, does appeal to my love of puzzles and maps. I can see the thinking that goes into these programs, not just by the creators, but by Jasper when he watches. Yes, he gets the thousand-mile stare sometimes, but he also knows a little bit more about backpacks and maps now.

And this is further confused by his addiction to a particular form of television. Our TV, of course, is just a computer, and so he generally wants us to play his music. This is usually accompanied by the visualizations of whatever music player we are using. He doesn’t actually ask for TV, but he certainly asks for his music. (He’s goes to a Music Together class each week, and there is an associated CD.) The natural tendency is to think of TV as bad and a desire to listen to music good, but I’m not at all sure that’s the case. And it’s not like he’s asking for particularly good music.

In the end, I’ve decided it’s stupid to worry about it. He’ll continue to watch TV, even at this young age, limited to about 3 hours each week, and watched with heavy involvement by us. Yes, this is in violation of the AAP recommendations, but since when did we follow the rules?

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  1. Posted 5/11/2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Ignore the rules. Trust your gut. My teenagers watch a lot of TV, and did so as little kids, too. They also write better than most of my grad students, play musical instruments, love the opera, have great senses of humor, and are great company.

    It’s the entirety of their experience, not any one piece, that makes the difference. Balance the TV with live theater and museums and books and conversations. (Which I’m quite sure you’d do even if I didn’t suggest it.) And ignore the sometimes well-meaning advice about child-rearing from anyone who tells you you’re doing it wrong. :)

    (Also…love love love the typography on your site! My 13-year-old, at a 9th grade orientation meeting this week, literally recoiled in his seat at one point, hissing in my ear “Mom! They’re using Papyrus *and* Comic Sans?! Who would *do* that?!)

  2. alex
    Posted 5/11/2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Liz. I tend not to go with the pack on parenting advice, because it’s usually just mush that is recycled and passed on. But the social science–it should be good for something, shouldn’t it? And yet here is a great example of social science that is applicable in the aggregate without being applicable in the particular. For example, is there any measurable difference between those kids who have no TV and those who have just a bit? And does it really not matter what they watch? (I was restricted to Wild Kingdom & Jacques Cousteau specials, along with CBS Evening News.)

    And, regressions aside, what about the cases in which the kids are better off for having watched TV? I find it difficult to believe that there are not complex, textured interactions between the various factors. Yes, I’m playing “my kid exceptionalism,” but I think it’s justified–not just for my kid but for many. (Of course, that’s the same argument that is made by those who refuse to immunize…)

    Thanks on the type as well. I was so close to Comic Sans ;). I just wanted to play with CSS3 embedding for my class. There are still a bunch of tweaks needed, especially to sections with smaller type.

  3. Posted 5/13/2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m quite skeptical of the evidence and the way it’s interpreted. At worst, some TV “exposure” (which isn’t the way that kids really watch) is a contributing factor in some kids in some contexts. But in other research – and my own personal experience parenting 3 kids – TV can be a healthy part of a child’s life at any age, and kids’ TV today is better than it’s ever been. And as your child gets older, you’ll find that getting him to watch something (hopefully well-crafted and age-appropriate) can enable the adults to cook a healthy meal, do chores, relax, and otherwise be good parents. Good luck!

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