Tuesday, August 21, 2012

PAIL Bloggers August Monthly Theme Post--Screen Time

(WARNING:  Children mentioned.)

If you know me in real life or have been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am a reader and a planner.  Being both a reader and a planner, I naturally was aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that discourages media use by children younger than 2 years of age long before our sons were born.

You may find this hard to believe, but I have a couple of friends who are parents and have actually abided by this recommendation.  Really.  They got rid of their TVs when their children were born, or moved them to an area of the house where the children never are, and their children watched no TV whatsoever until they were older.  That includes videos.

From what I've read on this subject, the most troubling possible side effect of early media use is that it can adversely affect brain development. However, this possibility has not (yet) been borne out by research. In fact, even the AAP admits "no longitudinal study has determined the long-term effects of media use on infants and children younger than 2 years."

Given that my greatest concern is the possible adverse effects on brain development, it's the act of watching TV itself, and not just the content of the program(s) being watched, that's a problem.  Sure, it's probably wise not to let your infants watch slasher films, or action movies with gunfights and car crashes, or war scenes.  But if the danger is its effect on brain development, it seems to me that that danger would be just as present with a Baby Einstein video or Sesame Street as with adult dramas.

If I were the only parent to our boys, we simply would not have a TV in our house. I have lived entirely without TV for a few long-ish periods in my life, and frankly, I didn't really miss it. Since MM and I have been married, he has picked the TV programs which are on in our house 99% of the time.  I only exercise "veto power" in that I don't permit him to force me to watch shows I don't want to watch.  (To avoid possibly offending some who also like those shows, I won't mention any by name.  Suffice it to say, they are all "reality" TV shows.  I do offer to leave the room, though, so he can watch, so I don't "forbid" him to watch those shows.)

Nowadays I don't really have time to watch TV, even if I wanted to.  So it would be no hardship to me whatsoever to eliminate it completely from my life.

However, my sons have another parent, MM, who loves TV and scoffed at the mere suggestion that its viewing be limited in our home. There is literally no chance that he would let me remove our TV from our house.  He won't even let me cut out our extended cable because he "need[s] [his] sports" and claims he has "given up almost everything already."

Our "family position" is a compromise between MM's position (all TV, all the time) and mine (no TV, or extremely limited TV).  He has (mostly) agreed that anything which is not rated "G" cannot be on when the boys are awake (although I have to remind of this from time to time), and I have given some and let the boys watch a few minutes of a Baby Einstein video or SportsCenter while their food settles after a feeding or so that MM can take a shower in the mornings.

The result?  At this point in their lives, I think AJ and MJ have watched more ESPN than anything else.  That is, to the extent that they actually watch what is on.

During the eight hours a day, four days a week, when our nanny is with the boys, the TV is off.  One of our house rules for the nanny is "no TV," and believe it or not, she was happy to abide by it.  (Her last family allowed their children to watch far too much TV, in her opinion.)

When the boys are older, we will continue to limit their TV viewing both in terms of time and of content.  We intend to do the same with computer usage and video games, too.  It's our intent that the boys will spend the majority of their time either engaged in active play, reading or away from home for various activities (sports, music lessons, etc.).

I don't think there is any real harm in babies watching some Baby Einstein videos or other age-appropriate programming, but I don't believe there is any huge benefit to it either.  (At least, no controlled study has thus far demonstrated any benefit.)  Talking and playing with children is of more benefit to them in their learning and development than any media, in my opinion.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my views are based primarily on the research, AAP recommendations and reading I've done. Growing up, my sister and I watched A LOT of TV. I mean, A LOT. The TV was on in the mornings before school and as soon as we got home until we went to bed. We also got an Atari gaming system in our teen years and played it a lot.  And we both went on to be scholastically successful. So based on my own childhood experience, I can hardly condemn TV or media.


  1. You know, we were careful about TV when the boys were small, but in the end need for distraction trumped the AAP. (By this I mean medical need - he'd eat more distracted by TV than not, fuss less if the TV was on while he was trapped in the playpen, etc.)

    And we let them watch entirely "too much" TV now, too. Because it's a hard thing to break and I feel more comfortable myself with the background noise.

    BUT - most of the time they are doing active things at the same time as the TV is on (my kids sit still? Bah!) .. and they have learned SO MUCH that I might not have exposed them to otherwise. So I think there can be some value. I just don't think I would have thought to introduce them to some concepts so young if it hadn't shown up on TV first. They get the idea from TV, we talk about it, we explore it off-screen more, and they learn actual good things. Which maybe is the thing ... TV in isolation is a different thing than TV with a lot of interaction and supervision.

  2. I don't watch much tv these days. I read more than anything. Really the quality of programming that is available makes it so that I'd rather just pull the plug entirely.

  3. How interesting to read this just a day after my sister emailed a story about her "techie" baby; her youngest is 14 months, and recently was trying to manipulate the digital camera as if it were an ipad (her second youngest has epilepsy and mild cognitive impairment and the ipad is for him, but all the kids have limited face time with it), and she was reflecting on how different it is for Rinnah being a kid vs. what it was like for her and I being a kid, or even for her older children (7 and 5). I grew up in a mostly non-TV household, and though my husband didn't, we've never actually owned a TV and the only reason that we've had one the last 7 years is because it came with the apartments we've rented. I had the TV on last week for the Olympics; this was the first time I'd turned it on since Gwen was born 9 months ago. We do, however, watch sci fi tv shows on my husband's computer every Saturday night, along with homemade pizza. For the most part we've continued this tradition after Gwen's bedtime, but there was one time she was absolutely awake and we gave up and had her come sit with us for an episode of Babylon 5. She was entranced (and then went promptly back to bed). When she was really young, occasionally when I was at my wit's end, we'd lie on the floor together and watch a music video or two on youtube on my phone. We still occasionally will sit and watch a short (< 5 min.) video together. All told, she's probably watched maybe 3 hours of TV/video/etc. in her life, I can't feel too bad about that.

    I found the page you linked to interesting because it focused so much on passive media, like TV/videos/movies, etc., whereas I'm curious to see how we'll handle introduction to the computer. We're both computer geeks, and I started using a computer when I was ~4, and I'm sure that Gwen by then will be even more fluent on the computer than me. We haven't talked yet about how to balance the introduction so that she learns how to properly budget her time with respect to it. We've got about a year or so, I figure. :)

  4. I started out with good intentions and have to say for most of her first year G did not watch tv. It was on as background noise, but we were very busy doing other things.

    Now she is at daycare from 8:30 to 5:30 every day and doesn't get access to tv. At home we ususally have something g-rated on in the evenings while she plays. We have been eating dinner a lot in front of the tv lately though. This is something I said I definitely did not want to do. So, thanks for the reminder, and tonight we will be eating at the table.

  5. The compromises never seem to end, do they. My DH would LOVE to get full cable "for the sports." And I believe him - he would only watch sports. But I know that *I* would go right back to having it on 16 hours a day, watching re-runs or 'whatever' just because it's there. And so, we don't get cable and he buys subscriptions to stream his events from the web. His sport is Euro soccer though, so he and the boy watch it together those mornings. I think that's okay, for now. At least it's soccer and not ultimate fighting, right?

    Really glad to hear that your childcare provider is cool with no TV. That makes me happy :)

  6. I hear ya on the compromise with the hubby thing, its hard when they are sports lovers who have the tv on all the time. moderation is so impt in a things, and it's a hard lesson to teach if char can't get off the TV or me off the computer long enough to model that behavior!

  7. I agree with you-- Baby Einstein and its ilk get misconstrued sometimes as educational programming that will teach kids something, and really, it's just baby crack-- but if baby crack gives you half a second of peace in a stressful day, or a moment to pee, or, G-d love you, a SHOWER, then more power to you. Your kid's not going to drop ten points on his SAT because he watched fifteen minutes a day. It's all about the family life and home environment that you want to cultivate, and for some people, TV just isn't part of it-- but for some, it is.

  8. I love that your nanny is so great about the no TV rule. Not only does it keep the boys from getting that unnecessary stimulus but it ensures that the nanny is paying attention to the kids!

    I’m not convinced that TV has such a detrimental effect on children as some studies suggest but it’s also not something that I care enough about (watching TV myself) to really run that risk. I keep the TV off for the most part around my daughter, but I will definitely allow TV, in moderation, as she gets older.

  9. Great post, I feel too many people I talk to haven't actually read what the AAP has to say fully and it's true- there's not proof of brain development being harmed. (Which was my main concern too as we don't use the TV as a babysitter...) And their point was, that while baby einstein was not going to hurt it wasn't going to help either, so it's up to the family to decide.


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