Well, a ground-breaking article was recently published somewhere important, which I found on Google News, that says that 90% of 2 year olds watch television, despite warnings from pediatricians that children under age 2 should watch absolutely no tv whatsoever.
Really? This is news? How about I write an article about how 82% of 4th graders who go to a friend's house after school leave their backpacks at their friend's house? Or about how 76% of 6 year olds who don't eat their lunch right after school will throw a tantrum in the next 10 minutes? Way to go, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, you've spent your research dollars on something that a survey of the playground at 11:00 tomorrow could have told you for free.
Did the researcher never have a two year old? How about the American Pediatric Society? Is that group comprised solely of only children who were so unpopular (because they never watched tv) that they never got married and had their own kids? Yes, I'm sure their lack of tv watching helped them become the out-of-touch geniuses that they are, that we all want our two year olds to become.
My two year old watches tv. Lots of it. Way more than zero. And, hold on to something here, it's not even educational. While it is generally PBS that he watches, I have no illusions to the fact that DragonTales teaches my child nothing, and that Caillou probably does more harm than good. (Seriously whiny kid who tends to throw a fit to get his way. A fairly accurate representation of childhood, but not fun to watch. At all.)
But let's put this in some context. In the winter, he watches hours and hours of television, because we live in a climate where being outside 6 months of the year is only appropriate for popsicles and polar bears. And deer, apparently. But in the summer, his tv watching is greatly reduced because he can leave the house and ride his bike, go to the park, take his chances on the swing set, run around and play with his friends. Any tv-induced guilt is completely alleviated in the summer.
Here's the other qualification: my 2 year old is awake for roughly 12 hours a day. So even if he spends 2 hours or 3 hours watching tv (not in one block, but in chunks throughout the day) that still leaves nine or ten hours of interaction with other people, kids, etc. Is that really not enough? It's not like he has such a busy agenda that if he wastes time watching tv it is getting in the way of the dissertation that he's working on. Seriously, folks, he's two. What else is he going to do with his time?
I have to say, to the consternation of Boy #1, my youngest brother, and DH's youngest brother, that the other half of the article is where it gets really interesting, and where the report should be focused. The rest of the article is about how tv watching affects teens and adolescents. 33% of 14 year olds watch more than 3 hours of tv a day, and that amount of tv watching leads to a higher risk of:
Frequent attention difficulties.
Frequent failure to complete homework.
Frequent boredom at school.
Failure to complete high school.
Academic failure at the post-secondary level.
That's the angle I think the focus should be on. My 2 year old is nowhere near ready to enter elementary school, let alone college, but when he is in high school, the story will be different. I have to say, I'm stricter with my 9 year old than I am with my 2 year old, because I can see how he would love to spend his afternoons watching tv, but I won't let him. The reason is that, of the 14 hours Boy #1 is awake, 8 1/2 of those hours are getting ready for school, being at school, and doing homework, leaving 5 1/2 hours for doing something fun. That's a lot fewer available hours to be spent on tv, compared to the 12 hours of nothing my 2 year old has to look forward to. If you compare the percentage of available time being used on television, if both kids are watching 3 hours of tv, it is only 25% of Boy #3's free time, compared to more than 50% of Boy #1.
It reminds me that the teen years are really the time to be preparing, to an extent, for adulthood. I know a married college student, later 20's aged, who had a hard time getting to work on time because he would stay up too late (say, 4 a.m.) playing video games. Granted, I do stupid things with my time too, but at what point do the habits you make as a teenager turn into a liability for an adult? On one hand, you want to say, they're just kids, why make them suffer the kind of discipline they'll need as an adult? But on the other hand, if they never learn that discipline, aren't we making it harder for them when they have to show up for a job every single day at 8 a.m.?
I don't have teenagers, so I don't have any real answers. All I know is that I've got a son turning 10 this summer and that isn't too far away from teenager-hood. Am I unrealistically strict with him, in preparation for the day, many years from now, that he needs this kind of discipline? I don't think so. This is the age when DH gained a lot of weight, mostly due to not being as active as he was when he was younger, and boy has that scarred him. So I'll continue to kick him out of the house every day and tell him to find someone to play with, and hopefully I don't end up with him being a giant sloth on the couch in a few years. And we'll see in a few years if my 2 year olds viewing habits are harder to break because I let him watch so much so young.
I'd keep discussing this, but Thomas the Tank Engine is on.