Hey gang! Lots of excitement going on here! 3 breadless days behind me, 3 children at home on vacation and 3 big events happening at babybites, with me as the facilitator! I am trying to recover from my cop out post last week and answering a pretty controversial and hearty question this week! Here we go…
A friend recently asked me "How do you feel about television and video games for children?"
I had planned to do this post for a while but kept getting sidetracked with other questions and projects. When I saw an article that addressed this topic come across my twitter page , I thought it would be a great time to chime in. As well, it is Spring Break and I don't know about you but a good portion of this morning was spent in front of the boob, along with some video game playing! And yes, I am "Ask the Educator! Find out why I don't feel too much guilt!
I have never considered television or computers as an enemy. I watched a great deal of television as a child. When I supposedly finished my homework, The Brady Bunch, Good Times, Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days were staples until dinner. After dinner shows such as Love Boat, Silver Spoons, Different Strokes and other eighties gems were a constant. We had an Atari and also played it pretty freely. With all this freedom we were still one of the few families who did not have cable. No cable, meant no MTV (the horror!). My mother used to say "watch it at your friends homes!" I did. It's kind of surprising with all that television that I watched that I did not end up with a dead end life, right? What else did I do with the rest of my time if I watched so much television? "How did I not end up a coach potato? How did I end up going to college? Or, even writing this blog? My answer: Exposure to other experiences. I was enrolled in after school programs such as dance, theatre and music (we’ll save the topic of over scheduling your kids for another post!). I would roller skate on nice days. While after school television viewing could go on for as long as an hour and a half on some days, weekend morning viewing was limited by enrichment classes. Staying home in your pajamas was frowned upon. You had to get out of the house by 1:00PM at the latest and do something, even if it was just taking a walk in the neighborhood. Sunday was family day (This ritual ended when I was in middle school)). We, as an entire family attended a local museum, theatre or musical event or went to Central Park. We ate dinner together almost every single night (through High School) and there was no television viewing during dinnertime, EVER! My parents cared about balance. While there was an excessive amount of television and video game playing we had other opportunities to be social and develop our other skills.
Nowadays we know so much more about television and technology. They're are many more choices and they come with lots of challenges. While much of the data seems negative there are some positives. I meet so many parents who view technology as the enemy instead of looking at how it can be used as an effective tool. I had a friend who did not allow her children to use the computer or view television during the week but often spent a lot of her time yelling at her kids. She was trying to live up to this idea that TV was bad for her kids but did not fill the empty time with anything constructive. Berating her bored children made for a tense home and was making her feel like a failure. I finally said, "just put on a video!" You can approve the content and you can even build constructive questions and information around what they watch.
There are more choices than ever to find shows and video games that are educational and engaging (PBS has some goodies!). Parents should keep ears and eyes open ( even while you are cooking dinner or cleaning the house) so you can ask questions of your child as they watch. You can point out information ("I heard the letter J. Jack, your name begins with a J") and for older children ask them to make a connection to a character or to part of the plot. Questions like "Did you ever feel like that character?" Prediction questions such as, "What do you think will happen?" or "Who do you think is behind the mystery?" (Scooby Doo is great for this type of question) "Can you tell me what happened in sequence?" While television does not replace the important practice of reading, asking these types of comprehension questions can support literacy skills and make for great discussion. As well, parents should make a point to discuss topics that are brought up on telelvision that might confuse or scare children such as violence or sex.
The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend that children under two should not watch any television and the Director of the Parenting Institute at the New York University Child Study Center in New York City, recommends that parents should be involved in their kids television watching:
“The AAP guidelines that children under 2 shouldn’t watch any TV may be fairly strict and hard to carry out, but parents should be judicious about how much TV young children are watching, and be aware that it’s not likely to be appropriately stimulating”.
“Parents need to act as a TV filter for their children. For example, parents should point out when something is silly on TV that it’s not a real-life scenario."
I remember laughing when a nanny was scolded by a parent, who apparently didn't allow her children to watch any television, because the daughter had a play date with another little girl and television was on in the home. Really, was the child going to become corrupted, or turned into a television addict because of the exposure? Were they watching porn? This type of overreaction stems from fear and control. It is not just the act of watching television that is harmful for children. As an educator in an urban setting, I found that many of my students that clearly had no other experiences other than television and video games, coupled with with lack of supervision and structure, crippled their sense of creativity. It showed up in their writing, their thought processes and their self esteem. It is too simple of an answer to say that television or technology are the only factors that lead to aggressive and impatient children or contribute to a lack of creativity or bullying as some studies suggest.
The Wii, DSi and all the other hand held devices can help hand eye coordination and can even improve self esteem for some children. I'm not saying that there should be no limits when using these devices and I I feel strongly about parents staying on top of children's use of the internet, social media sites and texting. Like all privileges, they must come with responsibility. Yes, it gives us poor parents another issue to stay on top of but making time to talk with your children about technology and setting limits around it can make a difference.
I think in the end it is all about balance. Television and technology play an important part of the way we communicate and live. As parents we need to accept it, use it, monitor it for and with our children and teach them that it does not have to be the only way that we can get our entertainment. The key is to learn when to turn off the devices and get exposure to other experiences.