Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trusting our Children, Not our TV

A few of my neighbors make it clear without words (our society’s favorite way of communicating disproval) that they think my husband and I are neglectful because we allow our two boys (3 and 7) to play in the football field-long alley unsupervised. Actually, letting them play freely in a very short, private road among neighbors is something with a significant amount of thought and conversation behind it. We want our children to be active, to feel a controlled amount of freedom of movement and exploration in a safe environment. We have never had a problem and they appreciate the opportunity to build trust with us. All of these values are important to us and the benefit to our family outweighs the incredibly minute risk of them getting hit by one of our neighbors as they back out of their garages or of getting abducted.

These same quietly judgmental neighbors who insist on being present any time their children venture outside, who don’t allow them to run for fear they might fall, and who limit the area that they can play in to in front of their own garage, allow their children to watch hours and hours of TV without supervision daily. Sure, there is no risk of abduction or vehicular homicide in exposing children to so much screen time. But what are the risks? What are they exposing their children to?
We do not have TV time or do video games in our house. We have no cable. We allow a movie or two on the weekends. Not only do we feel it is important to interact with our children in an active way by playing games together, talking, reading, cooking, and painting, we also feel that there are too many well-documented problems that crop up as a result of too much TV.

Children in our society spend an average of four hours a day (not including video games or computer time) passively watching a screen. By the age of 18, a child has spent more time in front of a TV than at school. There is no diploma given at the culmination of this period of intense TV watching, but what have they learned, what have they seen, and who is teaching them?
We insist on having qualified, educated teachers that have been screened and trained before they get time and influence with our children. But we don’t hold such high standards when it comes to television’s time and influence. The goal of school is to educate. The first goal of TV is to sell, the second goal is to entertain. There are a few programs and channels devoted to educating, but regardless of the program, the education television provides is pervasive, highly influential and worrisome.
In addition to the violence (even in cartoons) or other situations that are not developmentally appropriate for children, there is also the massive amount of unfettered access marketers have to children, creating strong impressions in them of what foods are desirable and the idea that materialism leads to happiness. Instead of promoting ideas of empathy and the “oneness” of all things, TV tends to emphasize the separation or distinction of classes, races, and religious affiliations, while providing an unexamined judgment of them. It also portrays rigid gender expectations, narrow ideas of beauty, and celebrates ungracious behavior.

Numerous doctors and researchers have attributed many health issues with hours of television viewing, including Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD/ADHD), visual problems, obesity, learning difficulties, sensory integration problems, and aggressive behavior. Given the risk, the scope, and the problematic nature of these health issues, I think we are better off shutting off the TV and letting children off the leash to play outside. Thanks to the media, our paranoia has increase over concerns about abductions and other scary but very rare occurrences, as our freedom to roam has shrunk over progressive generations. Perhaps we too would do well to turn off the TV!

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post--we, too, are a family who does not have cable or video game systems, and our children watch no tv. We implemented "Friday Night Movie Night", and the kids look forward to picking something from the library each week to start the weekend. They watch anything from movie versions of books we've read (i.e. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to documentaries (Arctic Tale was wonderful and heartbreaking) to children's movies or collections of classic cartoons (I'll admit, I'm a fan). The time spent together doing more constructive or imaginative things is much more well-spent, and I like the fact that they aren't exposed to marketing campaigns advertising every latest and greatest toy during the commercials.
    It is sad that this generation feels the need to to be "helicopter parents", and if you don't act the same way you are seen as neglectful. We have found that oftentimes, our kids and their friends will work things out better on their own without parents constantly involved in every interaction.