Saturday, July 3, 2010

Throw away your television

Young children, 2 to 5 years old, spend over 3 1/2 hours a day
in front of televisions.

Preschool children need about 12 hours of sleep a day, so figure a healthy child has about 12 hours a day to earn about ants, water, people, and play.

30% of their awake time is spent in front of a television. Throw in the other video devices (DVRs, DVDs, game consoles, etc.) and you're edging up to 40%.

This, of course, is obscene.
But I watch with my child....
Yep, I don't doubt it--why not try watching your child, instead.

But it's educational....
Yep, if you want to make a babbling empty box out of him, an empty box that will swallow dogma and buy lots of shoes.

But I need my free time....
Yep, and you'll get it when the kids hit school, which seems to be the major reason for public school in many parents' eyes.

But it's PBS....
Yep, drop the "P" and you're closer to the truth.

But it quiets down my noisy toddler....
Yep, another drowned voice keeps her safe from that democratic lifestyle.

But it's a dangerous world outside.
Yep, but far less dangerous than the sheltered world we've made for our children. Diabetes will kill your child long before the bogeyman has a chance.

Turn it off.

Photo by Leslie, taken last evening on the Delaware Bay.
Some large mammals with big teeth were nearby, but we survived anyway.
Family around TV via, listed as public domain.

Source of television stats: NielsonWire. That and some basic arithmetic.


Joe said...

Yep. Just got rid of ours a few weeks ago. Haven't really looked back. Now, how to spend less time on the computer?

Anonymous said...

Come on Mr. Doyle, don't be shy, tell us what you truly feel ;)

The PBS example had me laughing out loud :)

But I agree. TV seems to be how people manage their kids, or rather, manage their own free time.

I don't have kids so perhaps I don't have the right to say this (but I'll say it anyways), I always figured that once you had kids you said goodbye to free time for at least 18 years. The amount of time young children are placed in front of the box seems a mean trade for time spent with parents.

John Spencer said...

Admittedly we watch TV every so often, but it's far from 3.5 hours a day. I remember reading Neil Postman and saying, "We just won't watch any television." But we have a few movies and I'm not sure it's super-damaging in small doses.

I empathize with people who feel they need a babysitter. The lack of free time is a pain.

But I often do my own thing and let them play. Right now they took apart little American flags that their grandma gave them and are having a sword fight.

Joel just said, "I bet this is the first time the flag has been used to start violence!" Oh, if he only knew.

Sue VanHattum said...

I was hoping to have no TV (etc) in my son's life, but his godmother gave him a Thomas video for his third birthday. He wanted to watch it all the time, so I established Movie Night on Friday or Saturday night.

He also watched TV when he was at her house for daycare, unfortunately. We did pretty well until I got a desktop computer and discovered Netflix instant. He's 8 now, and has been watching hours a day for the past half year. I don't think it's quite reached that average of 3.5 hours, but I don't like it.

Problem is, I'm trying to help him make good choices by letting him make the choices, and I'm torn about whether and how to limit it. I'm on the computer so much myself (working on my book) that it's hard to tell him he can't be.

Daniel said...

Right on! I totally agree. You know what else is a waste of time? Books. Seriously. Kids sit still while reading - no exercise there. And have you seen some of the books aimed at kids? Harry Potter? Witchcraft? No, thanks. I know, there are other books out there that are supposed to be "educational" but hey, PBS is supposed to be educational too - and like you said, drop the P and you get what it's really about. There's NOTHING about PBS that's worthwhile. Just like books.

nashworld said...

Nice one. So much so that Erin just read this one to me aloud from her laptop. I type this now as she reads to the rugrats on same sofa. Erin is the perfect TV Nazi. Less than 30 min, per day under two makes perfect sense to me as well... even if it's Blue Planet. She has a more steely resolve than I do. I can have CNN rolling in the background to perk up when I hear a phrase worthy of my interest. In other news-- I wonder about how subconsciously damaging to my overall mood that can be. The "news" is not typically a bright and shiny thing.

As you've pointed out several years ago, brains only have so many hours available during those most plastic two or three years. You can't get them back. It makes sense to not let too much passivity get in the way of more self-directed language acquisition and spatial interactions with real things. Once kids get into the school and run into trouble with such things, you can paint the house and put on a new roof, but you'll never be able to rebuild the foundation laid just a few years before. I've seen that data too many times.

That said, throwing it away isn't the answer. Think about it... if you don't want your daughter to be unhealthily boy-crazy... the answer is not to lock her up and keep her from dating until she moves away. That tends to backfire rather badly from what I've seen. In a similar vein, I had two friends in particular in college who were raised in a TV-forbidden home. (yes- supersmart, multi-degreed & cultured parents) Once those two (one male, one female) got away from home they sat in front of MTV more than they attended class. No exaggeration. They spoke directly to their resentment of no TV in their homes. It led to really compulsive behavior.

So yeah- in my head, I think it makes sense to protect kids from passive pixels up to the point where it prevents their attachment to the rest of the wider culture in which they will join.

I want my girls to get bored. And I'd rather that happen outdoors. I know that sounds odd to say, but I want them to frequently run out of things to "do" so that they lay contemplatively on the carpet of grass beneath our massive mulberry tree. I want them to daydream while watching branches sway in the breeze.

I can't help but believe that the majority of kids who are afforded such experiences don't have to end up taking pills to help them "pay attention" in school. I'd somehow like to believe that we have a type of "genetic memory" of the outdoors that you just can't connect to by watching Animal Planet in your PJs.

Back to TV. My opinion: limit the hell out of it. But don't burn your set. Allow it in tiny doses like candy. Balance. Surrounding kids with experiences that are more engaging and healthy than TV does much of the work for us.

PS- I just re-read and honestly, regarding your response to "TV quiets down my noisy toddler" were far too nice for such a hypothetical. Far from quieting voices of the future, I might have just gone with a response something like: "You're stupid and should invest heavily in a personal birth control plan." Period.

nashworld said...

Also- tell Leslie that the saturation in that photo is perfect. What's even better is the slight tilt of the horizon that creates movement in the boat. It makes me think of the gentle back and forth kayak tilt when you're not in too much of a hurry to snap a shot of the sunset.

doyle said...

Dear Joe,

Computers and televisions are superficially similar, but the interaction is much different. (Not going to argue it's a whole lot better--depends, I suppose, on what you do with it.)

Do you feel like you have more time now?

Dear Tracy,

You do not need to have kids to know what's ethically required (though, to be fair, until you have one, the demand is often underrated.)

Children simply have no more business watching television than drinking martinis or boffing random strangers. Not sure adults should be doing any of that, either, but we're past our formative stages....

Dear John,

First, your children's thoughtfulness continues to amaze me.

Few things are damaging in small doses, and I doubt you'd ever plunk your lambs in front of a television just to bide time. Kids need more attentive inattentiveness--let them figure things out, stepping in when you need to. Television dictates.

Dear Sue,

That's a tough situation. I was (am) a mediocre parent at best--I wasted most of my fatherhood away from my kids taking care of others' offspring. I regret that.

Having said that, I think it's wonderful that you allow your child to make choices, but ultimately you must fend for what's best. I think the question is not so much what to watch, but whether to watch at all. it's a different question, really, and we both know how your child would answer it.

The question is what you think is best for him. (As long as the dominant culture watches television, and as long as kids go through adolescence, this will remain a difficult question to answer.)

Dear Daniel,

I realize you're using humor here, but I am not sure where you draw the line at facetious.

I'd be glad to discuss physiology with you if you're serious. You burn almost 30% more calories reading than watching television--calories burned by an active brain.

Television's images are chosen by a producer; a reader's images are made the reader. I'd challenge you to name any half hour of PBS television as useful as a half hour meandering through a park with a thoughtful parent.

Dear Sean,

Ah, now the fun begins, and I love your analogies. Let me take them a step farther.

Would my daughter be better prepared for boys if I introduced her to dating (or whatever you call it now) when she was 3 years old? 7 years old? I'll tell you what, I'll make a compromise, not something I do easily--I'll concur that introducing television to a child at the same age you start the boy/girl thing makes sense.

As far as your friends go, I'd point out to the multitudes that are compulsive despite introduction to television at an early age.

In my family, children are introduced to ethanol at a fairly early age, in the hopes of them developing a healthy respect for something a part (for better or worse) of our culture. Works sometimes, and sometimes raging alcoholism develops anyway.

In the end, I agree with you, as usual: My opinion: limit the hell out of it. But don't burn your set. Allow it in tiny doses like candy. Balance. Surrounding kids with experiences that are more engaging and healthy than TV does much of the work for us. The children need to learn how to join the world at large.

I think....

I'll relay the words to Leslie--we're going back out tonight. I'm going to end up as blind as Galileo if I keep this up.

Leslie said...

Thank you, Sean, for the kind words. One gets lucky some times, or has good material. As Michael said, we may go blind watching the sun set every night. But how not to?

Anonymous said...

What you say about PBS isn't true but I accept the spirit of your words. Yes, it is better t have no TV. BUT, the likelihood of that is nill and so if one has to watch, PBS is better than any other choice, bar none. I guess you had one of your days.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

What on PBS is worth your child's time?

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was a lovely show, despite the creepy puppets, but he died (literally in 2003, figuratively in 2008).

Shining Time Station was fun, and my kids' Grandma Claire grew up with "Georgie" Carlin, and Horace Schemer is as good a bad guy as they come.

Reading Rainbow introduced dozens of fine book, but cannot beat a parent reading to his child.

Sesame Street has been declawed, but even before that, its Madison Avenue techniques for keeping a child's attention (frequent scene changes, zooms, pans, etc.) has, in itself, done harm to how children perceive the world.

But I challenge you to list PBS shows that are worth a child's (very) finite time.

doyle said...

Oh, and a couple more things....

1) If you throw out all the televisions you own (or give them away, but that seems sinful), you have no televisions. 100% likelihood!

2) Comedy Channel, SNY, the Independent Film Channel, and even the World Fishing Network kick PBS's butt.

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

I don't own a TV. Never have. Never will. My students are aghast when I tell them. (At least something, gets their attention!)

doyle said...

Dear Magical Mystery Teacher,


You never watched Monster Jam Live on Speed Channel? Never seen Grave Digger, the monster truck of all time?

You have no idea what you're missing....