I’ll never forget the poignancy of what she said. I had just turned off the television when my daughter, red in the face, stomping her feet and punching her fists in the air, shouted, “Maybe they should have never invented TVs!” She choked back a few breaths and said, “I wish Grandma was born a million years ago so we never had to watch TV,” and then collapsed into my arms and sobbed. I knew exactly what she meant. The paradox of childhood is that despite having very little life experience, kids seem to intrinsically understand things, as if they have all the secrets of life tucked inside their little sleeves, just waiting for the right moment to teach us something really important. Like, sometimes things that are meant to make us happy can make us resentful and angry if we get in too deep.
Which is to say, for the umpteenth time, if kids watch excessive amounts of TV, it will ruin their lives. Parents know this. But a new study released yesterday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reiterates that toddlers who watch too much TV will end up doing poorly in school.
University of Montreal and University of Michigan researchers found that “each additional hour of TV that children watched at 29 months corresponded with a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% drop in math achievement, a 13% decrease in physical activity on weekends, a 10% increase in video-game playing and a 10% greater likelihood of getting teased, assaulted or insulted by classmates” by age 10. According to the study, television consumes nine hours of the average 2-and-a-half-year-old’s week, increasing to 15 hours by age four-and-a-half. (I admit, my four-and-a-half year old watches 15 hours of TV a week. Does this mean I can check off a milestone on her development chart?) Purportedly kids with “educated mothers watched less; those from single-parent homes watched more.” I’m an educated single-parent, so I guess it all evens out in the wash.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents watch TV with their children and discuss program content with them. Because I’m a modern/neurotic/dedicated parent and I want my kid to have a trouble-free life, I did that for a long time. It was easier when I was married. But I still tried as a single mom. Until the syrupy-sweet voices of the cast of Clifford began to lull me to sleep on the couch. And I realized I could actually get some work done while my daughter watched her morning shows. So for the past few months, I’ve let PBS babysit my kid for two hours a day. That automatically means she’s gonna be a failure by age 10? I don’t think so.
Linda Pagani, lead author of the study, told CNN, “Kids should be doing things that are intellectually enriching: playing with board games, playing with dice, playing with things that will improve their motor skills, reading. All that is replaced by sitting on the couch.” My daughter does all of those things for more hours per day than she watches television. In fact, she’s out on the sidewalk right now running a game of craps. I hope she comes back with fifty bucks. We could use a few new board games.
But seriously, folks. As I’ve mentioned before, I am well aware that we are all engaging too much with technology these days, and I concur with Dr. Dimitri Christakis, author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids. He told CNN, “The rapid edits and quick sequences found in many of today’s TV shows may be especially harmful…. The hypothesis we have is that this conditions the mind to expect high levels of input, and by comparison, reality is boring — it doesn’t happen fast enough.” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t like going to the movies anymore because I can’t stand watching the jump cuts. (And young kids always yell at me when I crinkle my candy wrappers. But I just have to have a caramel! For my cough. It’s plagued me since the first world war.) I hate the notion of my daughter going to the movies, but occasionally her father or grandmother will take her, and I let her go because I don’t want to be a prude. I’m very concerned about all of the media we consume, and yet I’m writing this to you via the Internet. Which is capitalized for some reason, because it’s that Important.
One thing I’ve learned is that the world doesn’t stop just because we want it to. Despite all these findings, people will continue to develop 3D-Internet-HD-TV that plays in our minds while we sleep. (You know, like dreams. But better. Because dreams are old-skool.) The important thing to remember is that we can control how we interact with media and how much of it we choose to consume. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go play dinosaur with my daughter, who is currently using our blow-up guitar as T-Rex teeth. Oh no, wait, the guitar just became a sword. I guess her sense of imagination is still intact, despite her daily devotion to Dinosaur Train. Whew!