Good TV? Yes!

Complain about harmful messages in children’s television shows, and be prepared for the attack: How dare you use television as a babysitter? How dare you consider taking a quick break from the perpetual work of parenting a small child, and pop in a video of Thomas the Tank Engine.

How insulting to thoughtful parents who are actively taking part in raising their children.

 I always have to wonder: At what point does television watching cross the line into unacceptable “babysitting?” I wouldn’t want to see any kid sitting in front of a screen for hours on end. But where’s the line for these judgmental people? Is zero television the only right way?

 If you put the kids in front of a handpicked quality show for half an hour – maybe my nephews’ favorite, Wordgirl – so you can actually make dinner without spilling hot food on an underfoot toddler, are you a bad parent?

And if you are offended by a sexed-up Katy Perry skit singing to Elmo in front of your kids, how dare you complain? You can just turn it off, you know. Not that the damage hasn’t already been done by a television program you thought you could trust. And you weren’t there to turn it off because you were safely dumping the spaghetti into the boiling pot of water well away from the children.  Do these people who excoriate parents for “using the TV as a babysitter” all have two nannies covering them 24 hours a day? I have news for them, though. The internet, TV and video games are here to stay, and we need to figure out how to maneuver our families through them, not just put our hands over our ears and shriek, “You can just turn it off! That thing has an off switch! You can just turn it off!”

Here’s what hurts about that Katy Perry skit. Sesame Street, it turns out, is good for kids. That’s what Jonah Lehrer says in an article at Wired that cites some fascinating research on technology and children’s development. Research, he says, has found that there are shows and video games that have a positive effect on kids. It’s content that matters more than the medium. Well, well, well.

Watching Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer, for example, can actually improve children’s vocabulary and readiness for school. Teletubbies, though, not so good. It actually dampens early learning.

So congratulations for using (some) (quality) TV as a babysitter! And for keeping the little ones away from the hot stove.

You can read Mr. Lehrer’s article at  Wired. 
Also, I’ve linked to one of the studies cited Children, Wired: For Better and For Worse on my Resources page. 


  1. Great post! I agree completely that we cannot demonize the media. Just as with food, there are healthy and unhealthy choices. Quality programming in small doses will definitely do more good than harm.

%d bloggers like this: