Television & Technology: Shhh... I Let My Kids Watch TV!

Hi Dr. Heather! I got your link from Dad Gone Mad, and love your site! I think it's wonderful to have someone sort of "official"; to converse with, as opposed to other moms who are, like me, just guessing at solutions!

My husband and I have a 2 1/2 year old girl, who is basically a VERY sweet, loving, funny kiddo. We are having a lot of fun with her at this stage, but I have a lot of questions. I love being her mom, but parenting is so hard sometimes! So my question is: How horrible is TV, really? I mean, we let her watch in the morning before going to daycare, and at night, but we watch educational stuff (well, mostly... like Little Einsteins or Miss Spider. Okay, sometimes we digress and watch Sponge Bob or Phineas and Ferb... okay, we do that A LOT lately - man, you're good at getting folks to talk...) :) I'd say it's maybe 2-3 hours a day, or more on weekends? I feel horrible even admitting this because I'm sure you're going to tell me I'm a BAD EVIL MOMMY. The TV thing makes me feel so guilty, but, honestly, she likes it and when there's nothing else to do, it helps me get things done! (Be gentle!)

Katie Kat Lawrence, KS

Dear Katie Kat,

Your question is great. Don't worry, no scoldings. In my house, we are All Backyardigans, all the time. (Not really. But plenty.)

"Do you let your kids watch TV?" is one of the most loaded questions we, as parents, ask each other. We hear snippets in the news about TV making kids turn into zombies with no ability to concentrate in school, socialize, or entertain themselves. We hear parents swearing they will not expose their children to TV, and feel ashamed to admit that we can't imagine life without it! We wonder how the heck to get dinner on the table (or just sit down to think for a moment) without turning on the tube. And really, is Sesame Street so harmful after all?

Your question led me to seek out a television research expert. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, is one of the foremost researchers in the field. He is a Director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington, and co-author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work For Your Kids. Dr. Zimmerman gave me permission to quote his very interesting book. Page four says, "Parents should not feel guilty, powerless or even indifferent about television, however; its effects need not be adverse, and they are most certainly remediable. Television viewing can be beneficial. It can be entertaining, broadening, and educational. It just has to be used properly." The authors go on to describe the most important issues in TV-watching for kids:

  • What is being watched? Content matters.
  • How much is being watched? Amount matters.
  • What is the context in which TV is watched? The rest of the child's life and environment matters.

The book also explains that this new age of DRVs and TiVos is terrific for kid TV-watching, since it allows us to zip out the commercials and other negative stuff we don't need them to see. Here's Dr. Zimmerman's website for more useful info.

As far as the BabyShrink's house goes... we do watch TV, but I am pretty strict about what we watch. I agree that the content of the shows is so important.....and that's what worries me most, not a Little Einstein or a Super Why or Miss Spider. But the Sponge Bob type stuff is a little too fast-moving, hectic and aggressive for me, and I think it can have an effect on the younger kids, especially. I am all in favor of using TV when you need a break to make dinner (or chat with a friend!), but obviously it shouldn't be a long-term babysitter. (I know you're not doing that.) Really, it should be in moderation; make sure they are getting physical outside play every day; the TV content should be as benevolent as possible; and then don't feel guilty about it!!

Dear Readers: Next time, more from Katie Kat on Potty Training Problems....she had a lot of great questions!

Now go ahead, you know you want to comment about TV-watching and your attitudes about it! I know Katie Kat is not alone in her TV-viewing dilemma. I can't wait to see what you all have to say about this post! (And don't be afraid to disagree!)

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink