Informal Poll of TV Habits

Of late, the admittedly engaging theme songs to Little Einsteins and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse have gotten a lot of play in our house. Not only do I know all the words, I’ve even given command performances. We know all the characters by name, my son jumping up and down on the couch and shouting, “Donald! Daisy! Goofy! Minnie! Mickey! THAT’S ME!” in time with the music. He pats along with June, Quincy, Annie, and Leo like a pro. Even my hands-free headset has a name: Rocket, of course. (Pretty clever, I must say.)

So, when Lisa Guernsey wrote a New York Times Op-Ed about the Baby Einstein videos that claim to make your children smarter (more precisely, “our products are designed to encourage discovery and inspire new ways for parents and little ones to interact.”), I was interested in finding out what other parents in my community were doing with the whole TV-and-children issue.

In my very informal poll of children’s TV-watching habits among DC Metro area parents (all members of DCUM), I was sure that everyone else would have much better TV management skills than I did. As it turns out, we’re all in much the same boat, which really should be no surprise. Although I anticipated that there would be more parents who have banned TV, I found that of the small sampling (~40) of respondents, they were pretty evenly split.

No TV at all

8

No TV until age 1

2

No TV until age 2

8

1-2 hrs/wk

3

Less than 1hr/day

5

About 1 hr/day

10

1-2 hrs/day

5

Shows most often watched include

Channels:

What’s Wrong with TV?

Despite all the press about how bad TV watching is for language development, that wasn’t the primary concern cited (perhaps because it’s the most obvious one). What was mentioned by several parents was the desire to protect kids from advertising as well as from the content of TV shows.

We’re in the “no TV at home at all” camp…we are trying very hard to keep him away from all of the heavy marketing/ advertising/ character-mindset associated with kid’s shows. More than the TV stupor, we’re trying to keep him away from the “I want this” whining that results from the mind numbing advertising prowess of these kid’s marketing machines.

The main rule we have is that he does not watch TV alone in the room. One of us is there to point out things that we disagree with or are factually wrong to try to convey the idea of not passively accepting everything the TV tells him, and to skip the parts that he finds scary or bothersome.

One mom who felt that the TV watching was getting out of control (up to 3 hours a day) canceled their cable: It has made huge difference in our home…The battles are significantly reduced and I feel less overwhelmed by all the noise and chaos at home.

One note I found particularly insightful comment was from a mom who wondered what TV was taking the place of:

What I think about when I think about TV is, What are my kids NOT doing if they are watching TV? Not playing, not building, not practicing an instrument, not cooking, not looking at books (not fighting with each other!!)

When and Where?

The most common times for TV-watching were getting ready in the morning and preparing dinner in the evening. Some parents said that their children only watched DVDs in the car, or only watched at their grandparents’ house or friends’ houses.

Numerous people wrote about their disappointment that videos and TV are used at daycares, camps and at school.

I don’t mind a VERY occasional use of a video (i.e., bad weather days or as a special treat), but in my mind, preschools or camps for children are not the place for TV watching. Good places don’t need to resort to their use.

I have to confess, I was so surprised to find out that it was common for TV-watching to be a school activity! For young children, isn’t the point of pre-school that they are getting social interaction, learning experiences, new activities…heck, if I want them to watch TV, they can stay home and do that! I guess we should all be grateful they aren’t watching A Christmas Story like we did every December.

What’s Good About TV?

One respondent thoughtfully noted:

It’s hard when we live in a world where we can’t necessarily let our kids out to play without us either organizing a playdate or else just letting them roam the neighborhood for fear of abduction or danger. TV seems a much safer alternative.

I hadn’t thought of TV-watching in quite this light, but it’s so true. I know that when I was young we would always be somewhere up the street, with the neighborhood kids, in someone’s yard or playing on the sidewalks in front of our houses. I’m sure my mom had at least a general idea of where we were and who we were with, but for me, the thought of letting my kids play outside without my eyes on them at all times is just too scary. Am I alone in this neurosis? Are there people–and places–out there who let their children roam the neighborhood?

Lessons Learned

In the end, I thought these two responses sum up both sides quite nicely:

We have limited time together, and none of us really want to spend it in front of a television.

I think this is yet another area of parenting where most of us have some “ideal” notion in our heads that we should be spending every waking moment being “perfect” parents (whatever that is) and stimulating/educating/spending “quality” time with our kids.

In our family, the TV is definitely a morning-rush and dinnertime activity. Since daddy is on morning duty, and I’m always so relieved that it’s not me that has to get everyone ready and out the door, I’m not even going to suggest that he leave the TV off then! (I know it’s only maybe 15-20 minutes of Baby Einstein or Mickey Mouse, anyway). Dinnertime is my purview, however…lately I’ve been setting up my toddler with his own bowls and spoon on a chair at the counter so he can mix and stir (and turn the lights on and off!) to his heart’s content. Our little one is usually demanding to be in the middle of the activity, so a doorway jumper keeps her active, contained, and happy. We all help mommy cook, we sing songs (last night it was 50 rounds of “I’m a Happy Helper!”), and we’re all together.

A huge thank you to everyone who responded to the poll!!

More Information:

American Academy of Pediatrics’ Recommendations.

Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project.

Lisa Guernsey, who wrote the New York Time Op-Ed that inspired the poll.


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