Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Rotting Our Brains

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.
Poor grades.
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.


Drake Steel said...

Greetings People,

Great thoughts Emily. I've similarly got some suggestions for the genius' who thought up the horror of 2 year olds watching too much TV.

Suggestion #1: They have finally gotten a problem for a group that can't fight back and defend themselves against an evil (TV watching) that we are all afraid of. So I guess we can safely ignore the cratering of lives that 50% of marriages experience (divorce) and leaving children in the anonymous, corporate day care companies to raise that same 2 year old. Or that to afford the $300,000 - $400,000 house and a 18 wheeler sized SUV mother's have to work. No these aren't the problem, its the 2 year olds watching TV. Here's a suggestion for the study people, worry about those problems first and see what happens to the 2 year olds.

I'll continue this rant later... I've got to get Tim to seminary. Oh, that's right you all don't have to get a 17 year old up at 05:30 for seminary. Utah has that onerous burden of a missed study hall.

Tim said...

Id like to say that I dont want to be in the same group as boy #1 and DH's bro. but Im afraid I am. But I get my homework done, thank you very much. And my college attendence has not changed in years! :)PLUS! I keep my attention pretty much on track in school.

Ryan said...

It is tought to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, especially in the cold winter months. I am glad to see a trend in video games that make you get up and move around. Whether you are dancing, boxing, or playing tennis indoors, it is better than just sitting there and only moving your fingertips.
Boy #2 has a lightsaber battle game that hooks directly into the tv which he then swings around a mini lightsaber to play the game. The other day when he was playing, his face was red and hot and he kept asking me for a drink of water! I prefer this game far more than Lego Star Wars which is your typical sit and twiddle your fingertips game!

Drake Steel said...

Now where was I... Oh, yes I left you while I was taking Tim to Seminary and before the guy that Dan worked with at the bowling alley killed himself.

Suggestion #2: I agree with the concept of everybody should be more active. However EVERYTHING in our economics and social life is geared twords doing just the opposite. If there is a activity that is being sold, a cruise for example, what aspect of it do they sell? The 10 mile Volksmarch around the port that you are visiting? The mountian that you may be able to climb during your visit? Nope, and trust me I know these things, its the midnight buffet that you can eat until you need to be taken off the boat with a derrick. A guy at work was a mountian climber in an earlier life and he regularly goes on long walks and many people go with him once. These aren't long walks either, 5 to 10 miles at most. But we just don't want to physically do things. Why did the internet get so popular? Because now you don't have to actually walk over to the phone and order a pizza, you can merely open another browse window and order it online. So to sum up this rant... We do need to be more active but everything in our lives are contributing to us not doing it. Its easier to stop watching TV (but then most of the stuff on TV is available on the internet...)

Suggestion #3: Stop frightening each other over stuff. This just might have it genisus in a comment that Emily made about the hazzards of farmers getting hit on the head with bales of hay. Now I'm very familiar with the dangers of farming and having been run over by a tractor, gotten innumerable cuts from innumerable things and almost having my own personal arm ripped off I think I can speak with authority on the subject. I've never seen a person get hit with a bale of hay. Would I have my child work with a farmer, yes. I'm suspicious of anything that appears to safe (the swingset for example) or has a reputation of being too dangerous (like the tramp.) This reminds me of a story a guy at work told of doing weightwatchers. He said this woman was whining about not loosing weight and all she ever ate was the zero point food. It turns out that she at the stuff in such vast quanities that she gained weight. So if something is safe is it ABSOLUTELY safe? No as we learned from the swingset/death machine. The answer? Do stuff, be as safe as possible but don't not do things because they have some perception of danger. Wear a bike helmet for example, wear a seat belt when driving/riding in a car that gets the biggest return for the least effort.

There, that should just about do it!