Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Television and kids
We will return to our regularly scheduled Q&As with various folks involved in gifted education soon. But in the meantime, a slight diversion: Television.
I have a column in today's USA TODAY about "The Great TV Disaster."
The news hook is the (originally scheduled) Feb 17, 2009 transition to digital TV signals. The transition could have, in theory, left some analog-only households in the dark. Our government has spent a lot of time and effort making sure no one suffers that great tragedy, but my point was that there is no policy interest in making sure people can watch TV. If anything, there's a major public interest in getting people to watch less. A major NIH report in December found that 30 years of research shows that, when it comes to kids, TV time is highly correlated with obesity, smoking, poor school outcomes, etc. These ills can cost society trillions over time.
Though fewer people study this, TV isn't good for adults either. It creates a time deficit for everything else. We watch 4.5 hours per day, on average, which means we don't exercise, work as much as we could, play with our kids as much as we could, etc. We do still sleep 8 hours, but we think we're getting less, possibly because other studies have found that a lot of evening screen time makes you feel less rested.
Anyway -- there are a lot of problems with TV time. Of course, there's also a lot of cool stuff on TV, too. We are in a big Elmo phase right now in my household. My 21-month-old son (yes, I know, under the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended age for viewing TV) is way into the furry red monster. I believe it started in earnest when he got his first hair cut a month ago. (That's the photo accompanying this post). The lady who cut his hair had him sit on a fire truck and watch an Elmo video. Next thing you know, he's saying "Elmo! Elmo!" and pointing at our TV very insistently. So we have the DVDs.
In theory, Elmo is educational. The reality is that children young enough to be in Elmo's target market don't pick up too much on the educational component. They just know that the character is appealing and, after a short while, familiar. Familiar things are cool in a scary world. So what do we do? We do our best to limit the screen time and make sure Jasper plays outside and with friends a lot too.
I'm curious what other people do. Is TV allowed in your house? What are the rules on show choice and timing? Are there shows that really are educational and smart enough to justify the time they take -- particularly for gifted kids?