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Jewish World Review April 14, 2004 / 24 Nissan, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports


Sorry, gotta turn off the TV


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | News flash: TV is bad for kids.

Not because it makes them fat and lazy. Duh. Not because it makes them think violence is fun. Yada, yada, yada. Not even because it makes them beg for sugar-coated sugar nuggets and girlie dolls in hooker heels and weapon-wielding action figures with muscles bulging like suitcase bombs. That's just the joy of childhood.

No, TV turns out to be bad for a really disturbing reason: It can mess up brains. Baby brains, before they get a chance to develop normally. Which means that every parent using TV as a baby-sitter is making a pact with the devil.

At least, that's the conclusion I draw from the study published last week in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It showed that babies and toddlers who watch more than the average amount of TV each day - average being 2.2 hours for 1-year-olds, 3.5 hours for 3-year-olds - run a significantly higher risk of developing attention disorders by age 7.

The study did take pains to say that this does not mean that every Wiggles-worshiping toddler is going to turn into a problem child, or that every kid with an attention issues got that way from watching too much TV. But, notes Dr. Ari Brown, spokeswoman for the study and co-author of "Baby 411," "Ages 0 to 3 are a very critical period of brain development. That's when the nerves are getting attached to each other. If you put in an environmental factor that can change the connections ... you can change the brain."

In other words: If a brain gets too exposed to all the hoopla of TV, even "educational" TV, it may start to register this frantic pace as normal. Anything less exciting - like school - becomes too dull to focus on. So it just makes sense to turn off your kids' TV.


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That collective groan includes my own. Life without TV means life with a kid pounding on the keys when you're trying to E-mail, a kid crying for attention instead of gurgling at the Teletubbies.

And it's not like the experts have great alternative suggestions: "You just have to figure it out," says the "Baby 411" lady. For her, this means doing things like making casseroles over the weekend so she doesn't have to cook during the week.

But if you're that organized, you probably have a cabinet full of non-dried-out art supplies that the kids can use to make birthday cards for Grandma. And kids who want to make 'em. Most of us just aren't that together.

"That's why we have extended families!" says Gary Ruskin, head of Commercial Alert, an organization that lobbies for children.

But, as Ruskin conceded moments later, most of us don't have extended families, eager to share baby duty. So maybe, he continues, we just have to relearn the tricks our moms and grandmas knew before Nickelodeon: how to keep the kiddies perfectly amused with, say, a ball of string.

Been there. And I don't know of any kids (or even kittens) who stay amused for very long.

But falling back on TV is not the answer, either. That Pediatrics study showed that for every extra hour of TV a day, toddlers have an extra 10% chance of developing attention problems. And if they never learn how to concentrate, life is going to be one long struggle to keep them occupied while you make dinner. So the answer is?

Exhaustion.

Or servants. But basically, we've got to attend to our kids, even when we need that time for ourselves. And we've got to take on the even more exhausting task of teaching them how to occupy themselves.

That's a lot to ask, but they won't be little forever. And, with the TV off, they may not be wired, wigged-out whiners, either.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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