Nothing gets pointy headed parents and child development experts more up in arms than kids' TV watching. By and large, the more intellectually ambitious the parents, the more concerned they are that even allowing their tots near an unplugged set will doom their aspiring genius to a life of public schools and (gasp!) a state university.  

But even acknowledging this preexisting prejudice, some of the studies and news reports that come out on this issue strike me as overwrought. Take this tidbit from one of two stories on TV and tots up on USAToday's site:


[A] Kaiser Family Foundation study that found nearly two-thirds of infants and children under age 2 spend an average of an hour and 20 minutes in front of the TV every day. And, the authors of the new study write, there's limited evidence that kids under age 2 benefit even from TV shows or videos or DVDs with educational content. Findings about educational program's effect on infants' language development have been mixed, the authors say...

OK. So, on average, most young kids watch one hour and 20 minutes of tv each day. (Unsurprising when you consider that American adults watch between 4 and 5 hours per day.) Worse still, it looks as though all those annoying Baby Einstein videos we've been buying won't make our kids more likely to become Rhodes scholars. But there's a difference between something being actively useful and actively harmful. So what's the actual problem here?

The problem is that time spent in front of a TV might cut into time interacting with parents, which can have a "substantial effect" on development in babies and young children. And in the new study, the moms interacted with their babies while watching fewer than a quarter of the TV programs. [emphasis mine]

Ah. Now I see. These researchers are operating on the assumption that, if lazy mums didn't plop their offspring down in front of the tube for those 80 minutes, they would instead be spending meaningful time interacting with little Ricky and Sacha--perhaps baking cookies, composing amusing limericks, or planting zinnias in the backyard.

Yeah. Right. More likely, today's harried mothers would do what earlier generations did: plop the kid into a big old playpen with a handful of toys (or, barring that, pots and pans) and let them entertain themselves alone while Mommy washed, cleaned, cooked, made phone calls, dealt with the plumber, mowed the lawn, or whatever else she needed to get done that day. (Today, she'd likely spend four hours on hold trying to get someone to come out and debug her PC or fix her freaking internet connection.)

Now maybe sitting around in a kiddie jail cell is indeed preferable to watching TV. But don't feed me this line about how TV watching is horrible because it might be preventing moms from spending more quality time with their tots. Even without TV, there have always been plenty of easy ways for mothers (whether by choice or necessity) to avoid doing that. 

--Michelle Cottle