Trends: Television (TV), Movies & Other Devices
A few months ago, we introduced a new track titled ‘Trends’ and in it, we highlighted a few areas to pursue, one of these being TV and its impact on our children.
There is a preponderance of studies that talk about how bad watching television is for a child’s development. You can articles published in the NY Times & Huffington Post, on PBS, by the Mayo Clinic and American Pediatric Association. All of these state that there are no benefits for children under 2 who are watching television and the more TV an older child watches, the worse it is for his or her development. Excessive TV watching has been linked to childhood obesity, aggressive behavior, and social disengagement.
In Sue Palmer’s book, Toxic Childhood published in 2007, the statistics of childhood behavioral problems, neurological issues and social dysfunction are staggering. Many of these are attributed to this explosive technological age, where many households have as many as 10 screened devices, including televisions, iPads, video game devices, Smart phones, etc.
However, there is a recent study (June 2013) by the University of London that states TV could actually help children outperform their classmates. The study followed 11,000 British 7-year olds since birth and is known as the Millennium Cohort Study.
Although if you look more closely at the test results, other factors such as regular meal times and set bedtimes also play a role. As you may imagine, the most dominant factors for children outperforming their peers were parents in stable, well-paid jobs and the parents’ level of education.
So it seems that common sense prevails. TV is not the end-all-be-all source of evil, but it needs to be monitored and balanced with other activities.
For our family, we do enjoy TV. We like it. We have our favorite shows, watch family movies and really enjoy the entertainment and educational value of television. That being said, we have a very limited amount of TV viewing in our home and have stringent boundaries on the TV shows available for viewing.
The trends in children’s TV shows are where I have the most issue. In the 1980’s, Nickelodeon started conducting extensive focus groups on what appeals to children and switched their programming from all adult-based input to primarily child-based input. This led to other networks following suit, so now children’s TV shows involve very little parental guidance or engagement, and no learning opportunities or valuable lessons.
Gone are the parents of The Brady Bunch teaching their children the importance of getting along or Little House on the Prairie’s demonstrating how to be good neighbors. Today’s TV shows are filled with snarky girls, goofy boys, idiotic or absent parents involving storylines that glamorize drama among tweens and teenagers. So show-to-show, there is very little comparison to the TV programs we watched as children to the TV shows our children are watching.
Also, when we were young, Disney movies were only available on the big screen. So watching Snow White or 101 Dalmatians at the age of two was probably not going to happen since 2 year olds cannot sit still for that long in a movie theater. We were most likely 7 or 8 years old before we saw these Disney films. Can I say that was much more appropriate? Disney movies are terrorizing in the first 5 minutes where some parent character dies a horrific death, remember Finding Nemo? Combining this terror with the loud sounds, huge images and dark theater is probably a bit much for a toddler.
Additionally, we have a number of friends who shout from the rooftops that their children do not watch television, but in fact, these same children are on line watching YouTube videos, playing video games or Wii, and watching streaming movies. Sorry, but those count.
So what to do?
The family TV shows from the 60’s – 80’s have the most quality parenting advice and in some cases, are just good entertainment. Interestingly, these older shows are geared for older children as TV programming did not make numerous shows for younger children during that time.
However, your children will want to watch contemporary programming, so there is a sprinkling of newer shows with the classic ones.
Ages 3 ½ – 6 years:
Bob the Builder
Winnie the Pooh
Ages 6 – 8 years:
Drake & Josh
Leave It To Beaver
Little House on the Prairie
Magic School Bus
Ages 8 – 10+ years:
Facts of Life
Good Luck Charlie
I Dream of Jeannie
Laverne & Shirley
Mork & Mindy
Phineas & Ferb
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Saved by the Bell
Six Million Dollar Man
The Cosby Show
Wizards of Waverly Place
Ages 10+ years:
3rd Rock from the Sun
According to Jim
Boy Meets World
Eight is Enough
Fresh Prince of Bel Air
King of Queens
Malcolm in the Middle
My Wife & Kids
The Wonder Years
Who’s the Boss?
If you have children around the age of 7 or 8 years old and they watch the Disney channel, you will notice a number of shows that are missing from this list. That is intentional. I have found that most of the Disney shows are snarky and when my daughter has watched these shows, she has become snarky. So, accordingly, we do not watch them.
Also, two more quick notes:
- The commercials made now have 20X the amount of movement than the commercials made a number of years ago. Can anyone say sensory overload?
- When my children watch too much TV, they fight more, act spoiled, and generally are not as fun to be around.
My children did not go to the movie theater until a lot later than most of their friends. This was due to all of the stimuli that a movie theater entails. The loud surround sound, flashing images, dark theater, energy & interaction of other patrons, smells of the popcorn & candy, and story unfolding on the screen without availability to explain confusing or disturbing parts.
That being said, we have been to a number of movies in the theater. We make sure they are age appropriate, pre-screen if necessary and tend toward Illumination Entertainment & DreamWorks Animation. We like Pixar movies and realize it’s now part of Disney. Now, I am not anti-Disney, I just monitor Disney more closely than other film companies.
If your child is sensitive, be sensitive to theater movie viewing. If your child is timid or anxious when seeing ‘scary’ things, do not subject them to any movie that will create issues for them. Remember, the child, not the adult, defines ‘scary’.
When my son was about 4 years old, there was a part of a Winnie the Pooh movie that was scary to him. It was merely a scene in a darkened wood where Piglet & Pooh were lost. I never could see the scariness in this, but who am I to judge? We simply fast-forwarded over this part and enjoyed all of the other parts of the movie.
The movie theater offers an afternoon or evening out and the entertainment value is pretty huge. However, your children may not be ready to either go to the movies or watch a particular movie. I always say to my children, ‘You can’t unwatch something. Once you’ve seen it, we can’t take it back.’ I would rather have my children wait to see something, then see it when they are not ready.
With the size of some TV screens, you can create a movie-going experience at home. So, you can always rent a movie at home where the sensory input can be controlled and particular parts of movies explained. Add a little popcorn and voila – a movie-going experience can be had.
Not to ‘dis’ Disney, here is a list of REALLY good (and perhaps lesser known) Disney movies:
A Bug’s Life, Angels in the Outfield, Brother Bear, Freaky Friday, Hocus Pocus, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Mighty Ducks, The Kid, The Parent Trap, The Santa Clause
Other great & perhaps forgotten movies:
A Little Princess, Beethoven, Big, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Dennis the Menace, E.T., Free Willy, Great Outdoors, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Indian in the Cupboard, Like Mike, Matilda, Mousehunt, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nanny McPhee, Night at the Museum, Karate Kid, Rookie of the Year, Rudy, The Sandlot, Tooth Fairy
I would say the starting age for most of these films would be 6 or 7 years old.
Other Screened Devices
The article is NOT going to cover social media. That is a subject matter unto itself. The section reminds us that a screen is a screen. If television is something you want to place limits on, then you will want to place the same type of limits on your other screen devices. In fact, more limits in some cases.
Computers, iTouch, iPad, mini iPad, Nook HD & Kindle Fire have complete Internet & messaging capability. Full access is automatically granted unless you set up otherwise.
Smart phones have complete Internet & messaging capability.
iPod’s & Nano’s have limited capability, depending upon the apps, movies, podcasts, videos that are downloaded.
Video games and Wii. These are screens and should count as online time if you are placing limits on technological activities.
YouTube is unmonitored and fully accessible. Is it really appropriate to allow children of all ages to watch everything on Youtube?
Be smart (pun intended), talk with your children and explain the potential issues of full-access 24/7 online & messaging capabilities. Explain that freedom ALWAYS comes with responsibility. Set up controls together and talk about the trust and responsibility building that your children can achieve by making good decisions.
Often I hear parents say they have set up the controls where a computer will automatically shut off at a certain time or websites are not allowed. I always wonder if these controls are paired with the incredible learning opportunity they present.
The other thing I wonder is why are parents signing up to be tech support for their children by giving them devices they may not be ready to handle? Our children know that they need to be ready to handle the responsibility of any device – technically, practically and otherwise. (We currently have one Nook out there. Too soon? Well, the first one was lost on an airplane and this one is currently ‘lost’ for the entire summer due to the terrorizing of his sister. Both were purchased with either full or major contribution on our son’s part. Too soon? Yeah. I would say so. But, it offers excellent discussion as to why we are not rolling out cell phones, Nano’s and the like. Oh, and the limits placed on this device – would make your eyes cross. All based on trust, by the way. As we enter autumn, we’ll see what happens with the Nook.)
You know the drill – eat right, spend time together, get a good night’s sleep.
Other than that:
- Get outside.
- Play games.
- Ride bikes.
- Go to the park or the zoo.
- Let your children be bored.
- Get off of your devices and be role models.
Now, if you are a family who decides to eliminate screens from your house, then kudos and best of luck to you. You have found a way to navigate in this decade that I have not. I have yet to figure out how to eliminate computers or Smart phones and I really like my iPod. That being said, we do not have any video gaming device, more than one TV with cable capability, cell phones for our children or any touch screen computer functionality (lost Nook not included).
My son tells me he is the only one in his 7th grade class who does not have a cell phone or video game device. I informed him that while that is interesting, it is not going to change anytime soon.
My life would be easier if we eliminated technology. However, I do want my children to be knowledgeable of pop culture, to have a balance in their lives between technology and nature, and to have a healthy sense of making sound decisions about technology. So, we have lots of monitoring, watch TV together in most cases, and spend a lot of time doing things together that does not involve technology.
TV’s and other devices are not evil, but man, sometimes it seems that way! They present another level of overhead to manage and maintain.
Turn them off. Get outside.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Gee, I wish I watched more television?”
As always, wishing you joy,