April 5, 2012

Could a little television actually be good for kids?

Since Zippy was little, we’ve had a set of pretty consistent tv rules:   
  1. No more than 1 hour/day, with the exception of movie night.
  2. Educational and prosocial shows only.
  3. The tv is generally off while the kids are awake, unless they are the ones watching (or SportsCenter is on while Hubby cooks). That way they don’t “accidentally” see or hear something that isn’t appropriate for little ears. How I miss watching the evening news!
But of course there are times we deviate from these rules, and vacation is inevitably one of those times. I’m sure Zippy in particular watched much more than an hour/day at Grammy’s house and since she didn’t have On Demand cable, he watched whatever happened to be on, including a few episodes of Sponge Bob and Scooby Doo.

When we returned from vacation, Zippy tried to convince me that Scooby Doo should go into regular rotation at our house. I explained the reasons that wasn’t going to happen. “Daddy and I want you to watch shows that teach you things and help your brain grow. Scooby Doo is fun to watch, but I don’t think it helps you learn much.” Zippy thought for a moment. “Mommy, it does! Scooby Doo teaches me not to believe everything I see!” That is a very creative angle, Z, but the answer is still no. 

Because I’d much rather he watch television that sparks this kind of creativity:

That’s a bee hive surrounded by bees in a lightning storm, a man using a fire extinguisher to put out the fire started by his pipe, and a bird bringing a worm to her babies. Oh, and flowers full of pollen, a zucchini plant, and a basket of tomatoes. This was Zippy’s response to a new episode of Wild Kratts, which was about pollination. He spent a solid hour drawing. He also tried to pollinate all of the flowers in our yard.  Good thing his allergies won’t kick in for a few more weeks.

In spite of all the potential pitfalls and problems associated with kids watching television (check out this University of Michigan website for a good review), I do believe that some good can come from television used wisely and in moderation. Television becomes problematic when it replaces more positive activities or when kids are watching excessively or viewing inappropriate content (including shows that are geared toward kids, but depict aggression or harmful stereotypes). 

I remember reading somewhere that television interferes with development when parents plop their kids in front of the tv instead of playing and interacting with them. But there are definitely times as parents that we have other things to do and we aren’t going to be reading the kids a book or leading a bike ride. The quiet that accompanies a little tv-time might give us a few minutes to get chores done so that we can relax and do those stimulating activities with our kids!  Also, having clear limits on how much television our kids watch will ensure that they have plenty of time for other activities, too. 

There are plenty of wonderful shows that are both educational and fun, created with kids’ development in mind. These shows can introduce kids to new concepts, or stimulate and nurture existing passions. I wonder if Zippy would be as fascinated as he is by animals and dinosaurs without regular installments of Wild Kratts and Dino Dan. Would he be inspired to go outside and dig for dinosaur fossils in our garden? Or convinced that a ridge in a rock is a fossil and that the scientists from the Smithsonian need to come to our house to extract it? I love watching him come up with these ideas! Of course reading books about creatures and playing paleontologist are essential parts of his passion, but certain tv shows fuel this as well. 

Zippy working on one of his "creations"
Lastly, good shows provide positive role models. Zippy is dying to meet Chris and Martin Kratt. I think he truly believes that, if he did, they would take him on the Creature Adventure Trail with them.  (By the way, if you happen to be in Canada sometime and see a white house with a front porch, will you note the address and give us a call? Zippy has informed me that’s where the Kratt brothers live and he’d like to swing by sometime.) His tv role models have instilled in him a respect for animals and nature, and support an appreciation for curiosity and learning.

If Zippy sat in front of the television 24/7, he wouldn’t have time to explore his interests and creativity and problem solving throughout the rest of the day. But in moderation, with quality shows, I’m happy to let him watch. 

Check out Common Sense Media as a great source of reviews about kids’ television shows. Shows are rated on a number of scales related to educational content, age-appropriateness, positive messages, and any questionable content that parents might want to avoid. 

I didn't receive any compensation from Common Sense Media or the tv shows mentioned. 

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