28 February 2006

TV not so bad after all?

As reported in yesterday's New York Times, a new study by two University of Chicago economists finds TV-watching to have little or no effect on kids' future academic test scores. The study says nothing about TV's effects on their behavior, attention or lack of physical activity, but academics doesn't seem to be a problem.

We limit TV/screen time (including Gameboy, etc.) to about an hour a day, generally while I cook dinner. We're more relaxed about it on the weekend, when we like to watch movies together. I have no issue with good-quality children's programming (especially when paired with TiVo) -- but I do want my kids a) to know how to actively entertain themselves, and b) get some exercise every day, even if that just means building forts in the basement. So, TV time is set (in our house, 5-6pm), and everyone knows the rules, so there's a minimum of whining about it.

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I am a housewife (a stay-at-home dad who is also a feminist) and I work incredibly hard at my job. Our son and daughter have DirecTV and TiVo in their bedrooms. They watch as much as they want (we monitor the programming, and we provide plenty of non-TV activities). They are both A students (my son just brought home a 3.714) and are loved by their teachers. They are also very mature and emotionally well-balanced. I like the idea that my kids will be successful in life (because of the heavy influence we place on success in school), but I also like the idea that they don't think I'm a bastard.

The link to PBSkids as quality programming made me laugh. I think Noggin which offers hours of non-commercial programming until 3:00PM is far superior - My son started talking about Chuck-e-cheese because of the ads they have on PBSkids. PBS is shilling for the corporate interests just as much as any commercial broadcaster, and in the case of Noggin, much more...

(I'm with Stu in terms of relatively unfettered access...the best way to make someone an addict is to not teach them self-control. But that's what works for us.)

That study doesn't seem particularly useful--aside from the fact that it only looks at the effect of TV on test scores, it also looks at the effect of TV from the 1950s on test scores in the 1960s.

School populations have changed, tests have changed, and TV has changed. In the 50s, there was less TV programming available to watch (both in terms of hours and channels), and the narrative form was significantly different from what we are used to now--slower transitions, fewer narrative lines, and less commercial interruption.

All of which is to say that I don't think that study tells us anything about the effect of TV on kids today.

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