Turn Off, Tune Out, Step Up

James Mehring

When it comes to TV, I am already laying down the law. I do not want my daughter to be watching television. Right now, it is more like looking at the flashing images and listening to the sounds. I don’t care. Indeed, that is sort of the point. At just four months she has no idea what is happening on the screen.

Why the strong feelings? Whenever my daughter is in a room with a television set turned on, she contorts herself into all kinds of odd positions in order to see the images. She has craned her neck and arched her back so far that it scares me. Her fascination with the TV is probably normal but it disturbs me. I typically have to turn the TV off when playing with my daughter because Lyn and I can’t keep her attention.

My concerns aren't about obesity. I am being strict because I feel TV can negatively affect family dynamics and a young child's development. It appears those concerns are not too far off base. According to a recent report by the Basic Skills Agency, a non-profit organization in the UK aiming to improve literacy and social skills, TV is also contributing to declining communication skills among children.

Here is the problematic combination. It is more common for both parents to work now. Fewer of us have regular 9-to-5 jobs. Different schedules make sitting down to dinner as a family tougher. This adds up to less quality time between kids and parents and TV is used to fill in the gaps. As a result, kids are involved in less social interaction and do not talk to their parents as much. This can lead to communication problems when a child heads off to school, according to the BSA report.

I know these are not new issues but the Cartoon Network’s morning programs aimed at pre-schoolers has to be proof that they reaching new levels. And the BSA study doesn’t even touch the topic of marketing to small children. I am amazed at how some commercials are aimed directly at very young kids.

These issues really resonate with me because my family fits the profile. My wife and I work, our schedules don’t align very well, and I am not home for dinner at least twice a week. What’s more, both Lyn and I grew up eating dinner with our respective families every night. At the time, I didn’t want to leave in the middle of a baseball or football game— at least I was outside most of the time— to eat dinner. Now, I see the value of sitting down each night and at least having to say how your day went.

That’s why I am trying to keep TV at bay. That’s why I am strongly against portable DVD players in the car. It’s why our daughter, if she is awake, is in the height chair when we eat dinner together. The longer we can keep the TV from being a part of our daughter’s daily routine, the better it is for her and the easier it should be for us to control her TV watching down the road. That’s my hope. It also puts the onus on us as parents to spend as much quality time with our baby as we can. I can see it’s a challenge that will only get tougher but we are going to try our best.

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