Tuesday, April 04, 2006


TV is your Friend

New Scientist has just published an article with the headline Childhood TV and gaming is 'major public health issue', about a special issue of the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The basic idea is a very, very old one, and essentially boils down to "TV and games are bad, m'kay?"

I've got a few significant objections to the methodology of the cited studies. I'm reminded of a study I read about last week, that said that children who wore clothing with beer advertising on them were more likely to go on to drink, which I think has more to do with the effects of being the child of a parent who purchases clothing with beer advertising on it for their kid, than it does the efficacy of the advertising itself. The casually mentioned links here between violent media and "young men from violent communities," for instance, suggests to me very strongly that anything to do with the media and not the community as a primary cause is rather missing the point.

But the thing about these sorts of studies that I find so offensive is that there appears to be no distinction made in the methodoly among the different types of TV viewing a child can engage in (at least they distinguish between "violent" and "benign" video games, which is a start). Does an extra hour of Sesame Street a day really make a kid more likely to be overweight at age 3? Does watching two or more hours a day of shows like O'Grady and Avatar: The Last Airbender really make a teen more likely to have sex? While I have no doubt that there can be detrimental effects of kids watching inappropriate media, seeing things they lack the sophistication or development to process, there are loads of programs that are entirely appropriate for kids, and extremely beneficial for them.

As with so many things, I'm afraid this really boils down to the parents. What sort of shows are parents allowing their kids to watch? Do the parents talk to their kids about what they watch? Do they talk to their kids at all, for that matter? Yes, if TV is used as a cheap babysitter in a house, and toddlers are left to their own devices with a remote control and a bag of Cheetos, they're likely to turn out a bit pudgy. But if used appropriately, TV can be an invaluable part of educating a child.

TV is a medium, just like books, and there's good and bad examples of both. I'm tempted to say that anyone who suggested that reading more than one book a week can lead to fat, violent, sex-obsessed teens would be laughed out of their profession, but for all I know the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine is set to run that study in their next issue.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch Sesame Street with my daughter. I guess the fact that she can recite the alphabet at the age of twenty-five months will come as cold comfort when she's obese next year, right?

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