Television and our Kids

televisionA few years ago I had the opportunity to hear a young, successful woman talk to a group made up primarily of high school aged single mothers. The speaker shared how she had grown up poor with a single mom who worked a lot cleaning houses for wealthy people. Her mom noticed that the children in these higher income families did not spend much time watching television. The parents encouraged their children to be engaged in many different activities both at home and outside the home. These parents also found the time to take their children to libraries, museums, parks, and educational venues.

The speaker believes that part of her success is due to the fact that she did not spend hours in front of the television. She strongly encouraged these young women to avoid allowing tv to become a babysitter for their children. Almost every parent knows that turning on the tv is an easy way to keep your children occupied, out of trouble, and quiet.

Doctors Brazelton and Greenspan in their book, The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish, state: “In the first three years, no more than one half hour per day should be spent watching TV. After age three, an additional half hour of TV or computer time could be shared with a parent.”

Both the speaker and the author have in mind what is best for the kids. Like in so many areas of life, what is best is definitely not easiest. Most children would love to watch hours of TV a day if given the chance. Most parents appreciate the downtime TV provides and may even feel good about the “healthy show” that they have allowed their child to watch.

I learned about the concept of flow in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink. “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.” When you are experiencing flow, you are completely absorbed in what you are doing so that you lose track of time as you are working on a challenge, while experiencing growth and satisfaction.

Flow for children can come when they are making a craft, coming up with a drama, playing a game, drawing a picture, building a lego spacecraft, shooting hoops, building a fort, etc. In fact I think children are often more inclined than adults to get caught up in an activity and experience flow.

Some shows today are more educational and more worth-while than the Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo cartoons I grew up watching. My children love Wild Kratts on PBS and they actually do learn facts about animals from that show. However, watching TV will never lead to a state of flow and the growth benefits that come with it.

The speaker wanted those young moms to be intentional about the TV consumption of their children. She viewed herself as the product of a healthy upbringing that involved minimal TV. That part of her talk sticks out in my mind because I fully agree with her. Make sure that television is not something that just happens in your home. Don’t let the television set provide background noise for your family life. Keep TV a small part of your child’s childhood!

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