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Educational TV – um, maybe not

Submitted by on Monday, 2 March 2009 6 Comments

televisionSo you know those “music-focused developmental tools to stimulate babies’ brains”? Or the other DVD series that helps teach “problem solving, listening, classifying and concept awareness” to kids who can’t even crawl?

Turns out, those claims might not be true no matter how much companies want to spin it that way so they can guilt us into buying more of their stuff.

That’s according to a study of television viewing by children younger than 2 by a team of Harvard researchers. The workis published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Contrary to marketing claims and some parents’ perception that television viewing is beneficial to children’s brain development, no evidence of such benefit was found,” lead author Marie Evans Schmidt said in a news release.

If there’s a bright spot in the study, it’s that television viewing at a young age didn’t seem to hinder development after certain “sociodemographic and environmental factors” were factored out.

That’s not enough, though, to convince the researchers that the academy of pediatrics should change its “no television until age 2″ recommendation.

“TV exposure in infants has been associated with increased risk of obesity, attention problems, and decreased sleep quality,” said Dr. Michael Rich, also director of the Center on Media and Child Health. “Parents need to understand that infants and toddlers do not learn or benefit in any way from viewing TV at an early age.”

That certainly runs contrary to the theories pushed on me since before Big Guy even came into this world. From parents who have bragged that their child learned Spanish from “Dora the Explorer” and Hawaiian from “Lilo and Stitch” to grandparent types who think it’s just adorable when babies too young to sit watch TV from a bouncy chair so they’ll “learn how,” I’ve heard it all.

And I’ve largely resisted. Big Guy didn’t watch TV at all until he was 2 – at least not under my watch, and when I found out how much a caregiver was letting him watch behind my back, I quickly made a change.

When he was 2, he started with half of “Sesame Street,” because that’s all he had the patience for. I then bought the “Classical Baby” DVDs, not because I was bent on creating a genius but because he liked the music and I was happy to have an excuse to turn off Iron Maiden. Next came “Franklin the Turtle” on Noggin.

We were cable-free for one six-month period, and that included a torturous three weeks when we also were without a DVD player. So, yes, I know the value of TV as a babysitter. That doesn’t mean I like it, though. And it certainly doesn’t mean  I think they’re getting an academic edge from it.

These days, Boots usually meets his daily TV allotment by the time Big Guy gets home from school. He’s not paying attention to it most of the time – not that that matters, because young children still notice to background TV often enough to disrupt their play and their trains of thought.

Big Guy watches about an hour in late afternoon, and we all watch together right before bedtime.

So on weekdays, we’re right about at recommended limits. with Boots a smidge over. Some weekends, though, I drop a TV bomb on them. Like this Saturday, when I couldn’t put off a mountain of laundry and dishes any longer.

The guys basically had free reign for three hours – yes, the mess was that bad. They weren’t sitting glued to the tube the whole time – they took frequent breaks to run through the kitchen playing Batman versus Thomas. But I loathed every second.

Note that I said I loathed it, not that I felt guilty. I hated it because I would much rather have been running through the kitchen, too, than cleaning it. I was jealous that television got the time with the guys while I was stuck with the grunt work.

We made up for it Sunday, spending the rainy day baking cookies, playing board games and writing letters. On average, for the weekend, tube time wound up being right about where it should be.

So, no, I don’t feel guilty about Saturday’s excess. But neither do I delude myself that “educational” TV or videos has that great a value when it comes to truly educating a child, no matter how the marketers might try to spin it.

Seems that at least a few folks at Harvard might agree with that.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Vanilla Cokehead said:

    Luckily our kids stick for the most part to stuff on Sprout and Noggin – Trish and I need to ratchet back both kids’ TV usage.

    The best laugh I got, though, about “educational TV” was one Saturday morning when I channel-surfed past our local ABC station, saw “Suite Life of Zach and Cody”, and saw the “E/I” bug on the upper right corner of the screen. How in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is “Suite Life” educational? I tend to avoid the show myself – I feel like I’m killing brain cells when viewing it.

    The other “educational” show I can’t stand is “Hi-5″ on Discovery Kids – the teenage hosts look so vacuous I can almost feel my brains being sucked out when watching it. If I see Emma-Grace watching it, I go into my best impression of Morgan Freeman as Joe Clark in “Lean on Me” and bark at her, “It kills your brain cells, Emma; it kills your brain cells.” :)

  • Leslie K. said:

    I will never forget the day I learned about ‘time’ – it was from Captain Kangaroo when he showed the year 1959 on a blackboard. He then turned to the camera and said, “Tomorrow it will be 1960 and it will never be 1959 again”.

    I turned to my Mom and said, “REALLY???”

    some tv can be educational, I guess…

  • ParentingPink said:

    Darn those Baby Einstein marketing guru’s and their trickery! LOL!

  • Debra said:

    Oh, I can’t turn the channel quickly enough when Zach and Cody show up, Brian. It’s on one of the cable channels here — might well be on ABC, too, except I can’t think of the last time the TV was on anything here other than NickToons, Noggin or Nick Jr. OH! Yes, I can. It was during the president’s speech to Congress. The last time before that was Election Night.

    I could stand to ratchet back a bit on Boots, too. I hate how much he watches in the mornings while I’m trying to work, but I’m in a circular-logic trap right now. I’m not really bringing in enough freelance work to justify even part-time day care, but I can’t find more work without part-time child care. {{Sigh}} It’ll work itself eventually, and in the meantime I’ll just deal with it. But I don’t kid myself that what he’s watching is “educational.” He learns more when Big Guy decides to play teacher at the white board or by studying the numbers on his trains than he’s ever learned from the tube.

  • Debra said:

    LOL, Leslie.

    I don’t remember that much from TV when I was a kid, back in the poor deprived child days of three channels — we couldn’t even pick up PBS where I lived. Mainly, I recall “Romper Room” and sitting on the edge of my seat every day to see if Miss Marilyn saw me in her magic mirror.

  • Debra said:

    Makes me wanna sue my mama, Elizabeth. I could have been a genius — or at least smart enough to major in a financially sustainable discipline — if she’d just let me watch more TV when I was a kid.