Jewish World Review April 14, 2004 / 24 Nissan, 5764
Sorry, gotta turn off the TV
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.
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
"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
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?
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.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.