A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste; TV Doesn't Do It Alone

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Late this summer, the American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) issued new guidelines for children watching television. The thrust of the report was that children under the age of 2 should watch no TV.

This, of course, has been a topic of debate for generations, particularly since we fear our minds might have been turned to goop by an excess of television viewing in our formative years.

If my memory serves me correctly, I didn't watch much TV until I was about 4. At that point, I more than made up for lost time. I'm not sure exactly what kind of effect TV had on me, but as far as I can tell, I am able to think and verbalize thoughts. Well, I think you know what I'm trying to say.

All kidding aside, parents will forever fret over how much TV is too much, or if the young ones should watch it at all. A representative from AAP appeared on MSNBC a few days after the report came out to explain what the doctors meant.

It's not that TV in and of itself is particularly harmful for those under 2; it's just that it keeps them from doing other, possibly more constructive things.

That's hard to argue with. Yet, if it's part of a regiment that includes books, music and just plain old playtime, how damaging is it, if at all?

When PBS' Teletubbies made its American debut, the producers proudly touted it as a show specifically for those under the age of 3. Critics immediately weighed in with concerns. Should a 1-year-old be watching something they have to be propped up to see? Well, actually, a 1-year-old has to be propped up to do a lot of things, like eat and look at books. There are no advertisements during it, so it's not like that would be an influence.

I wonder if anyone actually watched any 2-year-olds as they watched the Tubbies. Mine yells out their names, sings and points out things on the screen ("House!," "Rabbit!," "Boat!"). Plus we also quiz her: "What color is Po?"

"Green!"

OK, she's still working on her colors.

Radio personality Don Imus recently told listeners his 18-month-old son Wyatt watches no TV. The exception is when Imus might be watching News Hour With Jim Lehr on PBS. When people ask Imus and his wife what Wyatt's favorite TV program is, they simply say, "He doesn't watch TV."

I'm sure abstinence is more healthy than moderation, but as someone who writes about television for CityBeat, I have to try to cut the tube some slack.

TV doesn't kill young minds. People do. I feel like the Charlton Heston of TV in cautiously defending the medium. We shouldn't outlaw TV but respect its power and train young people to use it responsibly.

Recently, my niece was over, and a repeat of Full House happened to be on. My daughter sat transfixed. It was eerie. This is not the same reaction she has to her shows.

Dr. John Mumma, a pediatrician with Group Health Associates in Cincinnati, says he is not a "TV Nazi" but does think the world might be a better place without it.

"Under age 2, it's more important for them to learn independent play," he says. "TV is a one-way medium."

Mumma says that his own children under age 2 have been known to sit and watch Arthur with an older sibling.

"Around 15 months, I tell parents the attention span goes up, and they will sit and watch a whole (TV program)," he also cautions.

Which brings us to one of America's most beloved, and most despised, television personalities, Barney. There are a lot of people who hate this purple dinosaur.

I've heard many insist that, when they have kids, "They're not watching Barney! PBS makes an accurate point when they say you're not supposed to like Barney."

Watch your child dance around, laugh and sing songs with the big purple bastard, and then tell me how much you hate him.

It's really a question of common sense, one would think. If your child is watching TV, watch with them. Point things out, or even sing along. In other words, try to inject some interaction. Use it as another fun tool to help him or her grow and develop, albeit on a very limited basis. Again, if they don't ever watch it, that's ceratinly not a huge loss by any means.

And, of course, you should teach them the most important lesson of all. A phrase my daughter utters at the end of Teletubbies is, "TV off?" as she walks up to the set, reaches up and fumbles for the on/off button.

And usually hits it.

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