TV Is Good

By Dr. Michael Weiss on May 04, 2007

So there I am, picking up my four-year-old daughter from her preschool class. I got there a few minutes early and was waiting with two moms. The topic of TV came up and they both exclaimed how evil those dirty little electronic boxes were and how they never let their children watch all the 'crap' served up by malicious television executives. One mom said that she wouldn't even have a TV in the house, but she and her husband do watch the occasional documentary. As I listen, a sense of guilt and misguided anger courses through my body. You see, the little secret in our home is that we keep the TV on much of the day. I'm a TV junkie, my wife less so, and my kids watch tons of TV.

    I'm pondering these confused feelings when one of the moms asks the inevitably awkward question, "Do your kids watch much TV?" "Oh," I say. "We watch an hour or two." An hour or two? Who am I kidding! I'm a well-regarded psychologist working with children, families and schools and I'm standing in a parking lot lying about TV! If I think this is so evil that I have to lie about it, why would I poison my children with too much viewing time? What's wrong with me?

    But just wait one minute here. Do I actually think that I am damaging my kids with Caillou, The Doodlebops and Dora the Explorer? That is ridiculous! Lets take a step back and introduce some common sense.

    For starters, watch your young children watching TV. My two little ones are building castles out of the couch cushions, colouring and rolling around on the floor. My older child is singing along with Elmo, teaching her little sister the words to the ABC song. They routinely watch the TV, but they also routinely disregard it as a function of the different activities they are engaged in. Indeed, psychologist Dan Anderson at the University of Massachusetts has found in his studies of children's TV viewing that young children are only 'watching' the TV about half of the time it's on. Most young kids are not 'glued to the set.'

You may ask, if they aren't watching that much, why have the boob-tube on at all? To be sure, we, like all parents, have to be careful about randomly leaving the TV on for no good reason, which unfortunately we do too often. And, I'd be lying again if I didn't acknowledge that some of this is just electronic babysitting, while the grown-ups are preparing meals or doing laundry. Which is fine.

    That said, it is also the case that I LOVE these kids shows. The social drama, the language, the songs, the fun TV, in the right moderation, is good! Of the many positive influences on their development, television has been a great source of material for children.

    Do I think that TV is a better alternative than going outdoors, playing with friends, pretend play, quality time with family, painting, colouring, cutting, skating, gymnastics, swimming, balanced meals and a decent nights sleep?
Of course not.

    That's the whole point! This is not about which one is better. This is all about having a balanced and diverse life. Kids' lives are good when they have a wide range of people and experiences in their day-to-day world. Don't buy into the guilt of "oh no, my child has been overexposed to a toxic TV environment," as long as you are trying to introduce a mix of activities.

    The best evidence on the damaging influence of TV is with older kids and pre-teens becoming couch potatoes, over-eating in front of violent or sexually graphic shows, while having little else to do in their lives. (Another news flash, childhood obesity correlates with too much TV, although it correlates with many other variables as well.)

    A great perspective can be found on the Impact of Media Use on Children and Youth, at the Website of the Canadian Paediatric Society (cps.ca/english/statements/), where the bottom line is that too much of anything is too much and, as I've already said the obvious, violence and sex are not for kids.

    We all have enough to worry about, so don't let watching a bit too much TV add to the guilt quotient. But if that does'nt soothe your nerves on this topic, go unplug the bloody thing and read a book with your kid. You'll both feel better. PC

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