Dear Dr. Fournier:
I’ve read advice over the years about how to handle the programming and amount of television with my children. The reality is that unless you are rich, you can only do so much with your kids. Even going to the park costs extra money for drinks and food and gasoline. Not only that, but who wants to go there every day? It is boring for me as well as for the kids to do the same things. Please don’t tell me about a wonderful trip to the library. We’ve done it and you can’t expect kids to have their head in a book all the time. The bottom line is that I feel guilty when I see my kids glued to the television, whether it be shows, games, or on the Internet.
Back in the good old days, it used to be easy. Most children in my generation grew up with one television in the house that weighed a ton. Children in the next generation grew up in houses that may have had two or more televisions, and perhaps a VHS player. Today, our children are faced with numerous media sources and technologies, from smartphones and tablets with Internet connectivity, to Blu-Ray media, multiple gaming consoles, and or 3-D capability on High-definition 60 inch wi-fi ready televisions.
When it comes to kids and television, it is easy to take the high road: Watching too much TV can turn a child into a passive witness of excessive violence, aberrant behavior and just plain trash. However, as you said, reality sometimes dictates that there is a finite list of other options, and they can be repetitive.
Of course, any activity done to excess has a negative side. Just as you do not want to visit the park or library every day, so too do you need a sense of balance and good judgment when it comes to television viewing. Just remember that it can be turned into a positive (dare I say it?) learning situation.
Having worked with children for many years, I can’t tell you how many times a child has told me something I didn’t know, only to find out that he or she learned it on television. On TV, our children get to see other parts of the globe. They learn that other people live differently than we do. They learn about animals they never knew existed. They hear different points of views on topics of interest. They find out about inventions that could revolutionize the world and thus their lives.
In the digital world we live in, we must remember to consider that television and Internet video has the capacity to relay information years before it can be incorporated into school textbooks. Subjects can come alive! Children can see their government at work, explore the natural world and they can see news as it happens. Unfortunately, they can also see anything unless we are there to supervise or share. As parents, we must establish a sense of balance and monitor our children’s television (and related media) viewing. With our guidance and insight, they can learn to separate the trash from the treasure.
WHAT TO DO:
The digital revolution has enabled many new methods parents can use to ensure that their children are protected and are watching an amount they feel is appropriate for their home.
With the advent of sites and applications like Netflix or the iTunes store, you can often find streaming shows, movies, documentaries and comparable programming that is not going to fall into the category of what parents (lovingly) refer to as “garbage.” There is plenty of trash out there to be sure, but between queues, recent watched histories and recording devices, parents are in a better position to monitor what their children are seeing than one might previously think.
If you have a cable box or a recording device like Tivo, you have the capability to record shows of interest for viewing at an appropriate time. The beauty of options like this one is that in there is much less danger of missing or arguing about show times, or children attempting to rush through homework or chores by a certain time so that they can run to the TV for a program.
Beyond that, it falls to the parent to fulfill his or her role as a monitor, and holding firm to the agreed upon time allotments based on the needs of your family and the rules and values in your home.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org.