This isn't a post about who's right. I don't know who's right, but I suspect they'll sort it out soon as I imagine they both want to make money.
This is a post about kids, TV, and the way that we think of kids and TV.
Public Opinion: TV is the New Cocaine
See, if you depend on public opinion, allowing your child to even be in the same house as a television is tantamount to removing sections of their brains, putting them in the blender, and then carefully replacing them. If you dare to allow your child to watch a full-length half-hour kid's show, then you might as well dump them out in a barren tundra slathered in some wolf-attracting gravy, because at least then they'd have a fighting chance.
Obviously, I think that these criticisms are a little ridiculous. For one, I don't think that a little exposure to electronic media is going to ruin our children's brains. In fact--as I've talked about before--I think that some media exposure is important because we live in a world where navigating complex media is an important part of our lives. Our children are going to grow into adults, and being able to analyze media--especially media that's trying to sell them something--will be important. This is especially true considering the technological advancements that will occur between now and our children's adulthoods. We can't possibly predict what their media landscapes will look like, but we can start to think about broad-level skills (like critical thinking) that will be applicable in any situation.
At the same time, I don't let my daughter watch television. This doesn't mean that I won't ever let her watch television, but I'm trying really hard to ensure that her media is introduced appropriately, and--for me--that means depending largely on media like books and music until her cognitive maturity is more developed and able to process dynamic media like television.
But I'm afraid that saying "I don't let my daughter watch television" will get me labeled as being someone in that first camp. And I don't think I belong there.
Come Closer So That I Might Judge You
See, these are the people that are just lurking on the comment sections of articles about the Viacom dispute waiting to shame parents for their lazy decision to doom the next generation as mindless zombies. Just check out some of the rants on this CNN article:
"For those upset about the loss of young children programming...Stop using the TV as a babysitter and read to your children. Teach them how to read...play games with them...I know people work a lot, but don't forget to be a parent." -Ishmale Whale
"God forbid someone's brat has toSimilarly, this Entertainment Weekly article that discusses what a low blow it was to aim a "call DirectTV or you'll lose Dora" commercial at kids (I agree; that's low), garnered the following comments:
learn to READ something for a change!!!!" -superdogs
"Maybe people shouldn't just sit their kids in front of cartoons all day and they wouldn't be sad if they're gone. My kids don't care" -Pcoltsfan23
"Completely agree! My 4 year old doesn't even know that Nickelodeon is gone yet. Why? Because we spent the day at swimming lessons and lunch and playing with at a friend's house. Tomorrow we'll be back in the pool. Life can go on without the t.v. on all day." -Elizabeth
How Much TV Can Kids Really Be Watching, Anyway? Oh. That's a Lot.And the thing is, there's more than a grain of truth to these concerns. Kids watch way too much TV these days. (Check out the Kaiser Family Foundation report from 2010 that looks at how many hours 8-18 year olds spend with media and this similar report from the Sesame Foundation that looks at the media habits of even younger children).
And if the comments were targeted in that way, maybe I wouldn't bristle so much. But they just seem so . . . smug. Take a look at them (and these weren't really chosen for their representativeness so much as their closeness to the top. Comment after comment reflects the same sentiment.) Kids who watch TV aren't being read to (because clearly you have to make a choice between television and books. It's one or the other. That's how media works). Kids who watch TV are "brats."
Then there are the parents who are bragging about how their kids fall outside of the norm. "My kids don't care." "My 4 year old doesn't even know that Nickelodeon is gone yet." These parents are so proud of their decision to spend every waking moment reading to their kids and playing games instead of watching television that they had to take to the internet to rub it in someone else's (someone who is clearly neglecting their children's) face.
Maybe There's a Real Problem, But Is Shame the Way to Fix It?And I think that's a problem. If you take a look at those reports from the Kaiser Family and Sesame Foundation, it's very clear that most children are watching some TV--and a lot of children are watching too much TV. Does allowing the minority of people who make a decision not to allow their children to watch TV climb up on a very vocal pedestal make the conversation surrounding children's media consumption easier? I think not. In fact, I think that allowing this vocal minority to shame and patronize parents for making a different choice about media consumption shuts down avenues to important conversations about how to incorporate appropriate media, in terms of both content and amount.
So instead of having constructive discussions over whether the messages about gender and race are appropriate for children or important conversations about how to balance sedentary hobbies with more active ones, we just turn into screaming defensive masses protecting our "no-TV" or "TV" turf.
Furthermore, it's really just one more battlefront in the I'm-a-better-parent-than-you game. Whether it's how we feed our children, where they sleep, whether we stay home with them or send them to daycare, whether we send them to daycare or hire a nanny, whether we wear them or use a stroller . . . you get the picture. It's always easy to pick the choice that you feel really good about and use it to look down upon everyone else. But none of us gets it 100% right 100% of the time, and turning every parenting decision into a do-or-die battle makes it really difficult for us to learn from one another and make decisions informed through multiple perspectives.