Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hot Topic! TV: how evil is it?

Pop Quiz: How do you feel about letting your kids watch TV?

a) I would sooner feed them a sippy cup full of bleach.
b) My kids watch TV...when they're on international flights or getting their teeth cleaned.
c) My kids don't watch that much TV...just a few hours of Playhouse Disney in the morning and an hour or two of PBS Kids after lunch--oh, and of course I pop in a video or two while I'm making dinner and before bedtime.

Here's a really interesting essay about TV-watching and its possible benefits. As a kid I grew up watching lots of TV, but also reading lots of books and loving riding my bike to the art museum down the street from my house. I have to say when I read this essay, I found it refreshing to hear someone actually admit that watching TV is fun, can be educational, stimulating, provocative and moving (just like any other art form).

As an adult I still love watching TV, although when it comes to interesting shows, it's slim pickings these days. Brandon and I get really excited on Wednesdays and Sundays because we know two of our favorite shows are going to be on on those nights: Project Runway and Mad Men (If you haven't watched this show about Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 60s, check it out. It's really great fun). I have now outed my husband as a Project Runway fan...he will never forgive me. We love watching those shows together and talking about them. It's a cheap date, but I would also contend it is time well spent together. We are also serial watchers of Jon and Kate Plus Eight. We will put the kids to bed, finally get a moment to ourselves and then head down to the living room to watch other people struggle to put their kids to bed and wish they had a moment to themselves. I'm not sure why that show is so appealing...who wants to watch a show about what you've been doing all day? I guess being a voyeur of a life that is so similar to your own is cathartic. It's like a mirror that you hold up to yourself and it turns out you actually look okay.

So, if Brandon and I are responsible recreational TV watchers, wouldn't it follow that we could teach our kids to be also? I think this idea that TV is all bad or all junk food for the brain is really false. There are some great kid shows out there too. Have you ever watched Word Girl before? It just won a Television Critics Association award for best children's programming. I love that it has inspired my daughter's super hero imaginative play and she's learning words like "cumbersome" in the process. I admit as a writer and a lover of books, I often think of myself as a "word girl" too. If I had a super power it would be the power to diagram sentences in the blink of an eye.

If one of my kids wanted to watch Max and Ruby while I made dinner, (which is, conveniently, when Max and Ruby comes on) I probably wouldn't say no. I love the Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells and the show does the books proud in my opinion. The stories are smart and character-driven and they always remind me of the way Emma and Charlie interact with each other. To quote Noggin's blurb about the show: "The brother and sister relationship is at the heart of these stories, and what makes the relationship humorous and fulfilling is that Rosemary Wells has added salt and pepper to it, instead of sugar." I guess Max and Ruby is to Emma and Charlie as Jon and Kate Plus Eight is to Brandon and me (except I would argue that I'm not nearly as uptight and bossy as Kate).

I certainly don't agree with everything the writer says in the aforementioned essay. I don't think it's a good idea to haphazardly expose young viewers to content they aren't mature enough for. I would not be pleased if Charlie started watching The Family Guy, for example. But I do think that there are worse things than finding comfort and entertainment in a favorite TV show. I know it makes my Wednesday that much better knowing that a new episode of Project Runway is waiting for me at the end of it. Why should I deny the same innocent pleasure to my children?


Phillips Family said...

My children watch TV in moderation. These days, cartoons are incredibly educational and interactive...much more so than the Smurfs ever were. Some that we enjoy are: Little Einsteins (wish I had that in college when taking Intro to Music), Word World (genuis), SuperWhy (encouraging a desire to read in my 3 year old), and Sesame Street (an oldie, but a goodie). We waaaay limit TV, but there are some great children's programs out there to be watched and enjoyed.

Also, I am a big Jon and Kate fan. Probably because it makes me realize that two little ones isn't so bad. My husband firmly believes that Jon and Kate have "jumped the shark" because Kate is now simply attempting to portray who she thinks Kate is (bossy, rude, a bit mean) rather than actually being herself. yep, these are the things we discuss late at night!

Raegan Brown said...

I do agree with the writer on the point that context is vitally important. That's why I'm not really that worried that I choose 'c' on your quiz. I think that having a little down time in the form of TV is important for them. In fact, that other alternative is Mommy as the primary source of all entertainment which has problems as well.

I love my DVR & DVD player b/c I'm able to put on something when I need it and it will be something I am okay with. Caro pretty much watches Zaboomafoo every day with some Mr. Rogers in there, too. One thing I really like about Mr. Rogers is how slow and somewhat dull it is, unlike the newfangled frenetic shows aimed at kids. And she loves it! I also put on nature DVDs like Planet Earth. She loves those and it's fun for her but not as entertainy.

On the subject of "Mad Men", I've never seen it, but Lenore Skenazy just wrote on it:

Robin said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Since Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death is sitting on our bookshelf, there is little doubt where I stand on this issue. :) I grew up without a TV (my parents got one when I was in middle school, I think), and I never thought I was in any way disadvantaged. Except when my friends started talking about what they'd seen the night before, of course!

Not having a TV has been an easy way for our family to live a little bit counter-culturally. If my kids are a little less "sophisticated" or "creative" because of it, I'm definitely OK with that.

kelly said...

Hey chica~ I would pay money for Bennett to enjoy a "Praise Baby" DVD, but I have had no such luck yet :). I don't know where I stand on the issue, but I think a little bit of anything can't hurt. I am a "Jon and Kate" watcher as well and get annoyed by how OCD and bossy she can be.... I'd have to agree with Lynley that it seems like she's gotten a bit more extreme aboard the "shark"! Either way I still watch and am amused with those 8 cute kids they have and appreciate her organization and their faith.

Tyler said...

I agree, i think that parents say that TV is bad bc they have kids that eather, sit there and play vidoe games all day, get in trouble for some thing there not supose to watch, or the parents watch tv to much them selves. they hear on tv that "tv rots your brains out" or that your kid will start getting lazy, but its not up to the tv, the goverment, the tv stations, or to who ever. its up for the parents to decide. there like children themselves. thier gonna sit there and wine and wine until they get there way. news flash television ain't going anywere any time soon.