Children's Television Workaround. Trading TV for YouTube. By Dan Oko for


Personal Essay: Children’s Television Workaround

Our kid’s TV-free, as long as online video doesn’t count. by Dan Oko

May 14, 2009


Two years ago, I worried that my yet-unborn daughter might be adversely affected by my television habits. Sure, I’m a fan of Battlestar Galactica and 30 Rock, but I knew as many new parents do that television has been linked with all sorts of developmental ills from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder, while experts have pretty much debunked the notion of “educational” shows as anything but.

Now, my wife and were not about to watch police procedurals with our newborn, but more to the point we vowed to keep our child away from the cathode tractor beam until she was old enough to have a chance of comprehending what happened on screen. So, I scoffed when a friend slipped us a Baby Einstein DVD. We knew small children need to be entertained by toys, not TV, and cared for by doting parents and grandparents, not by Dora the Explorer, Barney or Mr. Rogers.

To date, we’ve been pretty good about keeping Ursula away from the TV. Unlike some kids I know, she does not walk into strangers’ living rooms and demand the clicker. Still, over the past few months, a disturbing ritual has begun to encroach on my peace of mind.

When I am at home, working on the computer – which is often as I am a full-time, freelance writer – Ursula toddles in with frightening regularity to request a video or two. Of course, this watching started innocently, with me happy to share the occasional music video or wildlife clip with my baby (at least when not facing some mad work deadline). I found it downright adorable that daddy’s little girl wanted to see live-action animals, and was soon daydreaming about a time when we might go on a real African safari, something I did with my father, to see the big cats, elephant and wildebeest in person.

In turn, we became devoted fans of ARKive and National Geographic Kids, primarily, which offer short natural-history videos. I’m happy to report that the videos we watch have no product placement and minimal advertising, while any violence remains modest, such as when a lion kills the occasional gazelle. But, as Ursula approaches her second birthday, the tenor of our conversations has changed. We have expanded to a few classic cartoons, and now my bright-eyed daughter has gone from requesting “nunchees” (her original word for monkeys) to begging for fresh material of all stripes. In the twenty-two months since she was born, I find that I may have created a disturbingly young YouTube addict.

This is a problem for us for two reasons. The first is purely selfish, as having someone claw my leg and bang on my keyboard while screeching for entertainment can and often does derail my ability to work. The bigger problem is that indulging Ursula’s demand for video entertainment goes against virtually every parenting resource that I have found.

The American Academy of Pediatrics explicitly recommends that babies under the age of two watch no television. Meanwhile, childhood-development experts maintain that it makes no difference that our family’s media consumption takes place online; DVDs, film, TV and video games have all been placed under the forbidden, all-encompassing rubric of screen time. “When a child that age watches a video, or television, or goes to a movie, it amounts to the same thing,” opines Dr, Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist and chair of the Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.