I know a few parents who are strict with their children’s TV viewing habits, even a few who’ve blocked it out all together. It’s a big concern for new parents – at what point is my kid watching too much TV? Is it gonna make them a couch potato, slow their mental development, make them want to go to Disney World, etc.?
Of course, I write this as my own 1 year old is planted in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. That’s the immediate benefit for parents – it’s a distractor. They want to watch, you want to fix coffee and breakfast. Win win, right?
Deal is, there’s a ton of programming out there, from the moment they’re out of the womb all the way up through their segway to college. Specifically children’s programming has exploded over the last several years. It used to be a handful of public television shows that we relied on – Sesame Street probably the king of them all. Every kid growing up in the last 20 years should know Sesame Street well, and with good reason. It was creative, and it worked.
That’s the surprising part – it was fiercely researched and scientifically engineered to have to biggest impact on the youth audience. Reading Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he explains the painstaking research that went into making the show what it was. Sesame Street is probably the most researched show of all time, because it broke all conventional wisdom about kids and tv. It proved children can learn from a television show, and that everything about a show’s effectiveness centered on how much a child could grasp. That’s where the puppets came in. They made adult concepts relatable to young children.
These days, the new cadre of shows has come in such large numbers that one can only imagine how few get the Sesame Street detailed approach. A great example of that in my mind is the Baby Einsteins series. It was targeted at new moms who thought it’d give their babies a leg up on vocabulary, early concepts and new languages. If you never saw a Baby Einsteins video, it’s pretty much a montage of 30 second clips that show various colorful demonstrations with narrations in different languages doing a voice over for each. After about 15 minutes, it cuts to about 25 more minutes of advertising for the rest of the Baby Einsteins series.
I’m not going to say it’s total garbage, but there’s no proof it adds anything to early child development (article). You can tell by the way they’re marketed, and the premise they’re built on: any arrangement of distracting pictures set to Beethoven will make your kid smart.
Clearly, there’s no substitute for one-on-one interaction with a child, but at the same time, not all TV shows are a complete hindrance to a child’s development. Of course there’s also the factor of parental tolerance: I will not sit through Dora the Explorer. It could teach kids Calculus, I’m avoiding that show like the plague. Her insipid voice just grates my nerves.
There’s a ton of children’s TV shows out there. I’d say there’s nothing wrong with a little TV, as long as it’s in moderation and you’re selective about the materials.