No One Gets Smart by Watching TV

Hey Paul: My kids are watching too much TV – it seems like it’s on all the time! If not watching the TV they are on their computer or cellphone. They are all great kids with good friends and are doing well in school. How much is too much screen time?

A recent Nielson study found that U.S. adults have broken the five-hour barrier in average daily television time. People over the age of 50 watch the most TV, somewhere in the range of 50 hours a week — over 7 hours a day! By way of comparison the average married couple talks to each other a total of five minutes each day.

The NY Times reports that “The amount of time you spend consuming media — watching TV, surfing the web on a computer, using an app on your phone, listening to the radio and so forth — continues to go up. Nielsen said that in 2015, Americans spent about nine and a half hours each day consuming content this way. This year? The average is 10 hours and 39 minutes.”

The University of Michigan School of Medicine has a concise summary of TV habits among Americans and how screen time competes with other activities as well as the potential long-run detrimental impacts.

UM reports that that children age 2 to 5 spend on average 32 hours a week in front of the tube – mostly watching shows but also playing games. The free baby-sitting may be necessary or at least a huge convenience for the stay-at-home parent but a virtual education is not likely what these toddlers are receiving from serious tube time.

An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18. What starts with Bugs Bunny ends up in Game of Thrones.

71% of 8- to 18-year-olds have a TV in their bedroom. Kids with a TV in their bedroom spend an average of almost 1.5 hours more per day watching TV than kids without a TV in the bedroom. Take the screens out of their bedroom and turn that freed up time into something outdoors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a “better-safe-than-sorry” stance on TV for young children: “It may be tempting to put your infant or toddler in front of the television, especially to watch shows created just for children under age two.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics says: Don’t do it!

These early years are crucial in a child’s development. The Academy is concerned about the impact of television programming intended for children younger than age two and how it could affect your child’s development. Pediatricians strongly oppose targeted programming, especially when it’s used to market toys, games, dolls, unhealthy food and other products to toddlers. Any positive effect of television on infants and toddlers is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven. Under age two, talking, singing, reading, listening to music or playing are far more important to a child’s development than any TV show.”

Does TV make you poorer or do the poor just watch more TV? The Nielson study goes on to report “when looking at adult users of multimedia devices, black homes making under $50,000 averaged more than 33 monthly hours, Hispanic homes notched about 27 hours, and Asian-American homes had about 41 hours. In homes of these same ethnicities that made over $50,000, the monthly time spent with multimedia devices shrinks to 20 hours (black), nearly 19 hours (Hispanic) and 25 hours (Asian-American).”

I have a few pet peeves regarding television. Most the shows my kids watch not only have animals but talking animals. I don’t see why animals must have personalities and grand adventures. The entire Bible has only two talking animals (the snake in Genesis and oddly a talking donkey). I suppose there is a reason that C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series was made into movies and not The Screwtape Letters.

Another hangup I have with Sitcoms is the need for seemingly every actor’s line to be a  snide remark or comeback to the previous line with each sarcastic reply supported by piped-in audience laughter.  Is that how people should interact? Is it too much to ask to have regular conversations that build-up to the occasional hilarious scene?

Here are my suggestions for gauging the influence of TV on your family:

  1. Can you go without TV for a day? Try to go 24 hours with no screen time for the family – parents included.
  2. Whatever ages your children are spend a full day watching their shows. Count the number of talking animals for younger kid programs or the number of violent acts for older kids. Multiply it by 6000 (about the number of days in 18 years) – do you think that kind of repetition will have an impact on your child?
  3. Try the push-up game: have your child do a push-up every time the audience laughs. That could easily be 150 pushups in an hour program; if they watch five hours a day – look out Herschel Walker!
  4. Get all screens out of any child’s bedroom. Even Steve Jobs enforced this rule.
  5. Have dinner around a table looking at each other not the TV.
  6. Use a DVR to pre-record TV programs. Preferably you don’t have cable not only for the monetary outlay but more so for the time in can drain away from your life. For those with network stations you can get an inexpensive DVR from Amazon that will pause or record shows. Never watch another Cialis commercial!