Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Children, Television, and Freedom in General

When I took Ryan and Morgan to their respective pediatric appointments some weeks ago, I was asked by the nurse if I limited their television and computer time. I answered in the vague affirmative (“Yes, we monitor it.”) because I know from experience that providing any answer that starkly departs from the expected “Yes we are extremely strict about television.” will result in an unwelcome lecture to me by the nurse and/or doctor. I hate getting lectured. Especially when the subject is really none of the lecturer’s business.

The honest truth is that we have no restrictions about television or computers here. We handle this issue in pretty much the same way as the food issue (see yesterday’s post On Food and Freedom). As we provide them with a healthy stash of food to choose from, the kids also have a huge stack of parent-approved movies and tv shows from which to choose, and they can watch them whenever they please.

The only reason I ever really need to get involved is when they are having a dispute over movie or computer time. On those occasions, I help them negotiate a plan for using the Big TV on the Wall (see Kids Handling Conflict for information about how I do this.) or the computer. Sometimes, they’ll settle on a system for taking turns. Other times, one of them will choose to watch something on the computer, or upstairs. Every once in a while, someone will be scared by a movie, and we’ll stop it and figure out a new plan. (It’s not kind to watch something scary to someone else on the Big Wall right in front of them.)

And here’s the thing—which my pediatrician would maybe not believe—my kids do not spend every waking moment watching movies or playing on the computer. Complete freedom to choose what—or if—to watch movies does not result in children who never budge from the lure of the Big Wall. (And this happens to be one area where Ryan doesn’t seem to need any parental assistance—yay.)

I’ve noticed their electronic media moods ebb and flow. Sometimes, the movies are playing all day long, or the kid is parked in front of the computer for hours (that kid would usually be Morgan). This will occasionally last for days. Then there are other times when nobody thinks to turn on a movie—for days. And many days we’ll watch a show or two and then move on. Sometimes if the movies have been playing too much and it’s driving me nuts, I’ll suggest a walk or something else. But I’ve come to trust that their interests will change to something else if I just give them a bit of time. And you know what? They always do move on to something else.

I personally very much enjoy the fact that I don’t need to set timers or pay attention to their electronic media usage, since they make very good decisions about how often and what to watch.

What happens at my house is another example of kids being free to make choices within some very broad limits set by their parents (in this instance, we approve the movies they are allowed to watch) and they not making bad choices over and over. These kids are not slaves to their whims because there are no restrictions on tv. Instead, they have learned to manage this activity on their own and are in no danger of their becoming couch potatoes.

Besides, I really dislike how electronic media is portrayed as somehow inherently bad for you. As with most things, I suppose, overindulgence over a long period of time would be unhealthy. But it’s just interesting to me that the doctor doesn’t ask me if I limit the kid’s time playing outside or building in the sandbox or reading books. Watching movies and playing on the computer is entertaining and sometimes—frequently, actually—educational.

Combine the idea that tv and computers are somehow guilty pleasures that overindulgent parents allow their children to participate in with the idea that kids will tend to make bad choices when given the chance to make any choice and that would explain this little bit of interrogation I get to experience when I take the kids in for their physicals.


And here are a few more posts about free-range kids and positive discipline that might interest you:

Letting Go of your Children at Portland Family Currently Speaking


A Positive Discipline Moment at Principled Parent


Tantrums and Principles at The Little Things


Positive Discipline John and Ansley


A conversation about parenting I took part in over the weekend on Noodlefood’s Sunday Open Thread.

Good stuff, so go read those posts!


Monica said...

Your pediatric nurse asks you about TV time? Whoa, I'd have a huge problem with that. Exactly what "symptoms" would she be looking for that are supposedly associated with TV? Honestly!?

Rational Jenn said...

Oh yeah. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that peds ask parents all manner of nosy questions. Because, you know, too much tv probably contributes to obesity or ADHD (as an example--I truly don't know why they ask about it).

I have received unsolicited parenting advice from well-meaning docs and nurses since Ryan was a toddler. At his 15 month checkup, they recommended I start putting him in another room in a playpen or crib whenever he "misbehaved" for 1 minute. OMG.

In addition to television/electronic media, they ask about whether or not we have gun (oh yes they do!) and I half expect them to start asking academic questions of the kids since we homeschool. Fortunately, the pediatrician that we usually see is very pro-homeschooling (which is part of the reason I'm reluctant to change practices).

I unabashedly lie to them about questions that I think are absolutely none of their business. I hate that there's a lie in the kids' charts, but....

The fact of the matter is that if you want pediatric medical care for your kids--which I do--you have to deal with this intrusiveness, since most peds follow AAP guidelines. I know these docs are medicall competent (I used to work for the children's hospital system, so I know them from before I had kids), and that's really all I care about.

But it's still really annoying. Imagine going to your mechanic and them counseling you about which color to paint your car or something else that has nothing to do with the car's engine?

Rational Jenn said...

Also--proofreading evidently is too difficult for me before the coffee has fully kicked in!

Kelly Elmore said...

I don't think it is completely accurate that if you want pediatric medical care for your kids you have to put up with the intrusiveness. If you want to do the typical well baby and child visits to check for growth and development, they are going to ask those things, but if you just take them when they are sick, they don't ask. Livy has only been to the doctor twice since she was born. Once was to do the PKU test when she was a week old. Once was about a year ago when she had a bad illness that I thought might be strep. At that visit, I wasn't asked anything accept about her symptoms. I think it opens the door to nosiness when we take children who aren't sick to the doctor. I can tell if my child is developing normally, and to let the doctor give his opinion on that is already putting him in the parent's position. If the point of the visit is vaccines, doctors ought to just give them and be done. Why all the height and weight, except to make parents all nervous and neurotic?

Anyway, there's my rant. :)

Monica said...

Wow. A huge eye opener. But it's easy to imagine, since most *adult* doctors are relatively nosy, too.

Get a load of Obama's "vision" of healthcare: http://www.thecompletepatient.com/journal/2009/5/4/why-obamas-faith-in-docs-portends-little-change-in-our-appro.html

Rational Jenn said...

Kelly--Yes, it would be more accurate to say that if you want the pediatric well checkups for your kids, then you have to deal with that nosiness. And I've made my peace with it--obviously, or I wouldn't be getting well checkups for my kids! I wonder about other parents who feel compelled to answer those questions, and don't even think to question the fact that those questions are being asked. But those parents are not my problem.

Monica--I don't have time to click on that link yet, but I will. Even though I'm pretty sure I don't want to!

Amy said...

I disagree with you on this one, but only a little bit. I think it's great that your kids make their own, for the most part, smart choices about screen time, and that experience is extremely valuable. And I think the vilification of TV is a bunch of nonsense. But I also think, especially at the very young ages, that TV can be very confusing. Without writing a treatise here, I think it's a violation of the hierarchy of knowledge. If a one-year-old sees enough cartoons, he's going to have to sort through and identify that data along with the data from reality, which seems like it would be very difficult. (However, kids in households with 2 languages face similar problems, and they do just fine in the end - in their case, better in some ways.) But this argument applies to books, too! How do babies interpret the talking animals and "magical" stuff in their books? I know some people actually avoid those books for their infants. I'm not sure that is necessary, but I think they have a decent argument.

I don't think TV/computers can be educational until some certain age (but I'm not sure what that age is...2 or 3 or 4?) but what's wrong with pure entertainment? The anti-tv people seem to be yet another example of self-sacrificing, anti-pleasure repressors.

I might have to write out my own thoughts on this one on my blog. Thanks for posting your thoughts. It's refreshing to hear a dissenting voice on this issue.

Mrs. C said...

Jenn, this is such a great post I'm gonna have to do my own and link soon!

Travis N said...

Interesting posts, Jenn, as usual. (I mean both the TV one and the food one.) We do limit TV-time for our almost-three-year-old. He watches 30-60 minutes 3-4 times per week. It really hadn't occured to me that letting kids control their own TV intake was a reasonable possibility, and you make a strong case that it's working well for your family. So it's something I'll need to think about more.

On the other hand, I strongly support Amy's point that there are some potentially dangerous things about TV, cognitively speaking (in particular that, in some sense, TV is hierarchy-violating for kids). And I don't think there's any question that watching lots of TV can be terribly destructive to kids, cognitively speaking, if they aren't also getting parental guidance about what's OK to watch and lots of "real" activity time (e.g., playing outside and interacting with real life people) also. Actually, mulling this over, maybe the right way to think about this isn't in terms of time at all, but (as Amy suggested) in terms of hierarchy. For kids who are well-grounded in reality, as much as several hours of TV per day (on average) is probably fine. For kids who aren't, even a little TV could lure them into accepting an unreal master, so to speak, and generally give them all kids of wrong foundational beliefs about the world and their place in it.

I also wanted to comment on the issue of doctors/nurses being nosy. I think it's relevant to keep in mind here that the majority of people seen by most doctors will be significantly less educated and less rational than the people writing and reading this kind of blog. From that perspective, I don't think it is unreasonable for nurses to ask some "nosy" questions, just to get a quick baseline about what home life is like for a given kid. With just a few quick questions, for example, a nurse might determine that a kid watches lots of TV, hardly ever gets outdoor physical exercise, and eats lots of junk food. And having that baseline knowledge might help the doctor or nurse provide some quick education to the parent that is at the right level and genuinely helpful.

I haven't experienced this kind of nosiness exactly, but I have been repeatedly frustrated that doctors and nurses treated me like I was an "average parent", i.e., didn't recognize that I had a relatively advanced knowledge of how diagnosis works, what kinds of foods are healthy, etc. So I'm not saying it isn't annoying -- it is. I'm just saying it's not necessarily unreasonable for doctors/nurses to ask certain kinds of questions, or explain certain things in a certain way, that has the potential to "annoy" that unfortunately small percentage of people who don't need the kind of advice the questions are aimed at providing.

No doubt the situation would be improved if there were more freedom in the medical industry. Then, e.g., I could maybe decide to pay a little more to get a doctor that had time to get to know (and remember from visit to visit) who my wife and I are, what kind of advice we do and don't need, what level of explanation is appropriate for various technical issues, etc.

Rachel said...

Our pediatrician has never once asked about TV, which is fine because I'd probably feel inclined to hedge a bit, too.

I'm also liberal about TV and computer time. And my kids can barely make it through a half-hour program on Noggin, much less a full-length movie. They'd much rather be playing outside, and they usually are. ;)

Great post, as usual.

Diana Hsieh said...

On television: Many years ago, I was watching Batman (the animated series, a favorite cartoon of mine) with the boy of friends. He was something like four or five, I think. His parents had recorded the show on the VCR, and when I attempted to fast-forward through the commercials, he strongly objected. He didn't object because he wanted to watch the commercials, but because he saw no difference between the commercials and television show. I was pretty shocked by that. He was a very smart kid, but clearly he wasn't grasping the nature what he was watching even in a rudimentary way, even though he was keen on watching. My thought about that is that the kid wasn't yet cognitively ready to watch any television whatsoever.

Notably, I do think that the line between reality and fantasy would be much, much harder for children to draw with television than with books. With books, the child is required to engage his own imagination; he is not presented with the seeming reality in front of his eyes.

More generally, speaking of both children and adults, I would say that television (particularly episodic shows) encourage a kind of mental passivity. Almost all television is entirely forgettable; it's almost like taking a nap but without the benefit of actual rest. That's not so true of movies, and it's definitely not true of good fiction. Sometimes, such relaxation is all well and good. I certainly watch television, particularly while doing some other mindless tasks. (If I have enough mental bandwidth, however, I'd rather listen to an audio book or watch a movie.) Most "educational" television is even worse: it's not an efficient medium except in rare cases, so it's even more of a waste of time.

I'm not categorically opposed to television -- nor to video games, which I'd put into the same general category -- but I do think that most of the time, the precious moments of our short lives would be better spent in some other way.

St. Marks Academy said...

Interesting blog! Have you ever heard of St. Marks Academy?
We are a 100% online, Christian leadership academy that offers students the flexibility and attention required to reach their goals, at pace that suits their individual needs. At their fingertips is 120 hours of course work that will challenge and shape them into outstanding young Christian leaders - all tailored to suit each individual's unique interests and skills. Furthermore, students have 24/7 access to one-on-one instruction!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hurrah! I am not the only deadbeat mom out there!

I am fortunate that with the Chem Geek Princess (now 23), they asked none of those questions, nor did they worry about my mental health when I refused an X-ray for a possible broken toe because, hey, they were going to do the same thing whether it was broken or not.
That pediatrician had not problem prescribing antibiotics over the phone when the CGP had croup. He could hear her cough, said "Sounds croupy" and that was that. Unfortunately, he retired.

With the Boychick it has been more challenging because of his Asperger Syndrome. I have gotten detailed advice from people who don't have kids, or who do not have kids with a disability. They have no clue and I treat it that way. I just smile and nod and I am careful NOT to share what I am thinking as they talk. It does not help that Boychick has a pathalogical need to answer everything truthfully, even when the question is none of the questioner's beezwax! So I have had to teach him to l. . .. ah, be more circumspect.

In particular, watching parts of movies over and over help the Boychick learn about facial expression and social skills that Neurotypicals take for granted. So we use it, even though the Pediatric professionals think he is "perseverating."
Funny, they would say this just after commenting on how "mild" his symptoms are becoming.

So his NRA membership? Not something to share with his doctors. (He has good aim and is terminally cautious). I never thought I would have to teach a child to l. . . dissemble.

Richard said...

I remember when I was about 13 I went to get a physical. Afterwords, in the lobby, the doctor spoke to my mother about the results. To our bewilderment after that he asked if we kept a gun in the house. That led to being lectured about keeping them locked up and safe.

My mother and I could only exchange mutual looks of confusion and irritation. His rant seemed totally random and out of the blue, and I've always wondered what would prompt him to do such a thing. Now I know...

Monica said...

Indeed, Richard.

While I'm tempted to agree with Travis' point that there are a lot of idiot parents out there, I'm extremely skeptical of professional medical organizations' advice (perhaps partly because I'm a medical writer and I know waaaaaay too much about "continuing medical education" for doctors, some of which I develop). For instance, there's the AAP's advice to put fat eight year olds on statins to "lower their cholesterol." !! Getting way off the topic of TV here, but the AAP is an organization that can't even figure out what is healthy for kids to eat. Seriously, statins and lowfat milk for kids?! Jenn, I'd be willing to bet that their TV recommendations have something to do with some association they've "discovered" between obesity, ADHD, or some other thing.... regardless of whether there is actually a *causal* relationship.

Some of the commenters above have made some great points about the potentially destructive nature of TV. However, I'm tempted to believe that the AAP's guidelines are not based in any kind of objective clinical study of TV upon the minds or bodies of children. I also think it's appalling that they are giving parents advice on how to discipline children. That's simply none of their business. Period!

Sadly, it's unbelievable how non-objective so much medical advice is these days -- which makes Obama's statement about the doctor/patient relationship (linked above) that much more alarming. Some of this bad advice stems from government intervention. But some of it just bad epistemology, plain and simple.

Travis N said...

I agree with Monica that the advice dispensed by various health "experts" often isn't right (especially re: nutrition). But the original gripe wasn't about wrong advice, it was about the giving of advice (or the asking of questions for the purpose of then giving advice) at all. My point earlier was just that I don't think it's right to blame nurses/doctors for trying to "help". That's what they're supposed to do, and the way they do it is almost certainly helpful on average (even if it does come off as prying and paternalistic and pointless for people like us who have already put a lot of thought into these issues).

And for the most part you can't really blame nurses (and to a somewhat lesser extent, doctors) for not-too-critically passing along whatever advice the various professional organizations advocate.

I guess all I'm saying is that the real villains here are deeper. But then maybe I'm overanalyzing. If some airhead teenager spits his gum on the sidewalk and I step in it and kvetch a little, telling me that, really, it's Kant's fault kind of misses the point. =b

Rational Jenn said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! It's given me a lot to think about.

On the medical issue--I didn't expect this to be part of the discussion, but of course I ought to have anticipated it! I'm just a bit used to being asked nosy questions by doctors. At first, it was really irritating.

Having worked in the non-clinical side of healthcare for many years, I have developed a respect for most doctors--the training they undertake and the knowledge they have to do their jobs is amazing to me. I also learned, though, that just because someone is smart enough to have made it through medical school and residency, doesn't necessarily mean he is not an idiot.

And I learned that a smart patient is one who advocates for himself, pays attention and asks questions about treatment, and educates himself. Which I do. I know that most peds practices will follow AAP guidelines and I accept that fact. But I feel no obligation to provide them with information to which they are not entitled, either.

On the television issue--I do agree that too much tv can be bad and/or confusing to a child, but I am not following the argument that exposing a young child to tv violates the hierarchy of knowledge. (It's been a while since I've read OPAR and even longer since I've read ITOE.) So I am looking forward to your future post, Amy, or any comments anyone would care to leave here in the meantime.

It seems the argument is along the lines of "it's confusing to the child" or "it blurs the line between reality and fantasy." I could be formulating this completely wrongly, I realize.

TV shows are a part of reality though. If the content is confusing to the child, then you have a conversation about it and answer their questions, yes? The same goes for a book or other story, I'd think. Kids encounter things they don't fully understand all the time.

We do talk about how "this is just a story, it's not real." And I remarked in the latest NF Open Thread, there is a time in childhood when the kid has a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality--and what we do is point out when something is pretend and move on. Eventually, they do get it the distinction.

Perhaps I'm completely missing the point here. I am curious, though, because maybe I'm missing something important here (or need to re-read some epistemology to make things clearer in my mind).

My observations of my own kids have shown that they treat movies or tv the same way as a story in a book--when they are confused, they ask questions. If it's way over their heads, they're generally bored by it and don't pay attention at all. The baby sometimes seems to look at the movies, stares at the colors for a minute, and then will go do something else. He is not conceptual enough to understand or care about a story, but he might look at a color or an interesting image for a moment or two. I can only suppose he's thinking about it on some level, and discards the rest of the show as irrelevant and uninteresting (not that he could put that into words yet, and it's just a supposition).

Anyway, very interesting remarks! Thank you!

Christopher said...

Jenn, what do you consider parent-approved television/movies? From my limited experience, children's programming seems just as non-objective, or worse, than programs for adults. It seems like a cognitive minefield out there for kids.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Christopher! Here's a brief list of some of the movies/tv shows we like around here. Some of them are for pure entertainment, others are more educational. We like them for a variety of reasons. Also, we got rid of our satellite tv service a few months ago because we rarely watched it, so we only watch things we own--and we only own things we like. Without the satellite service, there is no temptation to just leave the tv on and find ourselves watching something that we don't enjoy or is contrary to our values. Also, keep in mind my kids' ages: 7, 4, and almost 1 (although the baby doesn't really watch tv yet).

Our favorites over the last 6 months or so:

Scooby Doo
Bugs Bunny
Schoolhouse Rock
The Backyardigans
Blue's Clues
Deadliest Catch*
Liberty's Kids*
Mary Poppins
Singin' in the Rain
101 Dalmatians
Homeward Bound 1 & 2
Star Wars, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6*
The Clone Wars
Anchors Aweigh
Lady & the Tramp
Indiana Jones 1 & 3*
Star Trek: Original Series*
Hello Kitty
Bringing Up Baby

* Indicates something that my older son enjoys, that he watches (at least at first) *with* Brendan or me, often after the younger ones are in bed or otherwise occupied. Sometimes we have restricted certain episodes that we think he is not mature enough to handle (Star Wars Episode III for example) or that require the answering of tons of questions (Liberty's Kids or Mythbusters).

I'm interested in the kinds of shows other people let their kids watch, too.

Travis N said...

I don't want to try to speak for Amy, who made the original comment about hierarchy -- and I too look forward to a future post by her on the topic! -- but I'll briefly indicate what I had in mind when I said I agreed with her. Actually, part of what I had in mind was captured by the example Diana shared. It's more or less just what you suggested, Jenn: "it's confusing to the child". But in a systematic way that I suspect can only be partially remedied by the kids of corrective measures you mentioned (like having conversations with the child afterwards if they express confusion).

As a parallel, I think it is obviously a bad idea to try to teach kids calculus before they know how to count. In fact, understanding calculus requires first mastering several layers of lower-level mathematical concepts. So what makes the bad idea bad is that it violates the hierarchy. Basically, you can't actually learn calculus before learning numbers, algebra, etc., so you shouldn't try. But suppose someone nevertheless advocated this (as, say, a crazy curriculuar reform movement for schools). It wouldn't be a great defense for their side of the cause if they said "well, sure the kids will be confused, but kids are confused about all kinds of things all the time, and if they get confused about some particular calculus lesson, they can just have a conversation with the teacher about it." While it's true that such conversations might to some degree ameliorate the confusion, it would still be a bad idea to implement this curricular reform, because -- on principle -- it must systematically lead to such confusion, and whatever parts of that confusion are not subsequently resolved (through conversations with the teacher or whatever) -- and there will be such parts -- will do real cognitive damage (e.g., train the students that they shouldn't expect to really understand what they're learning, and so encourage them to just fake it and go through the motions and cue in to praise and criticism instead of cuing into their own firsthand assessment of clarity and truth).

That is intended just as a hopefully uncontroversial example of violating the hierarchy, why it's bad, and why the intention to deal with the confusion it causes isn't enough to make it acceptable.

Of course, letting kids watch a little TV is not blatantly wrong in the way that trying to teach calculus to 3 year olds would be. So the point of the example is not to say "they're parallel, so anybody who lets their kids watch TV is wrong" -- rather, the point is to illustrate the kinds of problems associated with violating hierarchy as such. It's then a further question: to what extent does letting kids watch TV actually do this. And I don't think there's any blanket answer to that. It depends on what you let them watch, how much you let them watch, how savvy the kids are, what kinds of relationships they have with reality and with other people outside of their TV watching, etc.

Travis N said...

My rambling comment was (ahem, way) over the word limit for a single comment, so I had to break it in half. So, continuing from above...

Maybe it'd be helpful to try to construct another relatively uncontroversial kind of example, again just to illustrate the principle. Suppose some parents have a baby but want to both work and don't want to pay for real childcare, so they leave the kid (starting at 9 months old) at home by himself for 8 hours per day, with some food left out and the TV left on to entertain him. Suppose that goes on for several years. I don't think there's any question that the result is going to be a seriously messed-up 3 year old. But why would he be so messed-up? Because TV for him would have become essentially a substitute reality, and TV is very very different than real reality. So all that time his mind would have been forming concepts and generalizations that, as it turns out, are not applicable to real reality and which will therefore severely undermine his future attempts to act in real reality. In short, severe cognitive damage.

Now I think the concern is that, if you start letting your 3 year old watch several hours of TV per day, or your 10 year old watch 6 hours of TV per day, etc., there will be similar (but less intense) damage. At least, that's my concern. Which is why I limit the amount of TV my kids are allowed to watch -- and why I restrict the options they have for what to watch.

On the other hand, there are good TV shows for young kids, a little bit isn't going to cripple them (or probably even do any harm whatsoever), in fact watching TV is a perfectly valid and enjoyable way to relax, and there are times as a parent when you really just need the kid to be quiet and engrossed in something for a half hour. (We started letting the older boy watch a half hour of TV because there started to be days when only one of us was home with both kids, and the little one needed to have a bottle and get put down for his nap -- and it just doesn't work to have the older boy run in and interrupt that routine.) So, to me, it's like junk food. A little bit now and then can be an enjoyable part of a perfectly healthy life, but too much can be really bad for you.

That would have been a nice place to stop, but I just had another thought on this. I think it's just a fact that TV is "mesmerizing" in a way that, say, books aren't. So if you give (or read) a kid a book that is too advanced for him, he'll just get confused, get bored, zone out, do something else, etc. And there won't be any damage or anything. But with TV, kids will (just as a matter of fact) typically watch anything, even if they don't understand anything about what they're seeing. So they can get into a very passive almost unconscious state, in which their subconscious minds are nevertheless still actively processing (or trying to process) what they're seeing and hearing. And if they don't have to knowledge to process that stuff properly (because it's in whatever way too advanced for them, i.e., violating the hierarchy) the result will be a "junkheap" (to use a word AR uses in a similar context). So I think this is a crucial point to understand why TV is more dangerous than books and other forms of "fantasy".

All of that said, I'm still not at all convinced that there's any kind of problem with the approach to TV Jenn discussed in the original post, nor in how it plays out with her kids. It seems clear that the kids have strong healthy relationships with both human and non-human reality, that they are old and mature enough to handle the sorts of things they are allowed to watch, and -- most importantly -- that they are learning to make *their own* wise decisions about how to incorporate TV into their lives. So at the end of the day I'm still planning to think more at some point about following Jenn's example and allowing my own kids a little more freedom in regard to TV.

Rational Jenn said...

Travis, thank you for your comments. I'm very much looking forward to continuing this discussion. You make some good points, some of which I think I have a response to, others of which I need to consider more thoroughly.

But--I have to take the crew to ballet class just now! Life in the 3D world! :o)

Anyway, thank you again to all who commented--my brain is just full of all kinds of thoughts. I really like that. :o)

Amy said...

OK, I'm working on a post. My thinking isn't totally clear, but I have a bunch of examples to help explain my position.

Rational Jenn said...

A quick thought before ballet starts!

Something so far beyond the concepts a child (or anyone) has formed like calculus for Ryan or even a simple story for Sean wouldn't be confusing: it would be completely irrelevant, devoid of meaning. As such, would it necessarily harm someone to see it or would their reaction be "that's gibberish" and move on with their lives? Maybe the next time or after the hundredth time, after the person has integrated enough building block concepts, then that very same thing would begin to make sense to them. That is how I've seen such integrations work with my kids. Or me, for that matter. With kids, the physical maturation of the brain will also play a role in when they can grasp certain concepts.

Just a thought I wanted to get down while it is fresh.

Maartje said...

Hi Jenn!

I've talked about this quite a bit with my fiancee. The way we've discussed dealing with TV when we have kids is basically that we want to limit it; mostly because the vast majority of kids shows on TV are totally worthless. I seriously do not see any value in most of the cartoons they have on the kids channels, and I wouldn't want my kids to watch that on a regular basis, or more than extremely rarely. The other issue is that, like Travis said, it encourages mental passivity, and I don't think that's something you want to encourage by letting them get in that mode for a long time every day. I've seen that with a lot of kids: they just seem to turn their brain off and just stare at the screen for hours... and I'm pretty sure that they don't care about what they watch. Again, that mostly applies to certain TV shows.
However, instead of just saying that they can't watch those shows, we thought it would be a lot simpler to just not get cable: that pretty much gets rid of the problem because there wouldn't be any TV shows on all day for them to watch. We do want to get many good TV shows and movies for kids that they can watch, because there are many (mostly older) shows and movies that are benevolent and good.

So I agree to a large extent with what you've said in your post. I was mostly wondering what other people here thought about this method of limiting what things they can watch. I really like your list, by the way, most of those shows and movies look really good!

Christopher said...

Thanks for the list, Jenn! Television is one of the issues I've been very concerned with. I have three nephews who live in a non-Objectivist household in which the TV roars in the background with any old show or commercial during the evenings (Papa is a BAD influence!). I think it has been terribly destructive for them to have that *total* lack of selectivity in regard to the programming, and have wondered where the line is to be drawn with kids and TV, especially in issues of fantasy and when a child can tell the difference from reality and pretend. Even though abuse of the TV occurs only when Papa is home, those few hours a day seems to be destructive to the kids (ages 5,5, and 3).

Because of this, I'd adopted a "Puritanical" approach in my thinking about kids and TV, thinking the whole issue should be avoided. But after reading your Positive Discipline posts, I think there is a rational, limited approach. I’d be interested in hearing more posts or comments about how your kids reacted to issues of fantasy, especially with how Ryan and Morgan reacted when they were younger to things like talking animals, “the Force” in “Star Wars”, Mary Poppins’ magical nature, etc. (However, I’m suspecting that the answers are probably much simpler than I’ve thought.)

A couple of my nephews get that *gone*, non-thinking expression on their faces quite often when the tv is on, and are so enthralled that they don't even hear anyone speaking to them, as if they're hypnotized. It's very disturbing, as they're also developing ADHD symptoms, and are having a lot of trouble focusing on their homeschool lessons. In retrospect, I think I’ve not been expecting benevolence out of how children react to TV since my concrete example is with my nephews in a non-Objectivist environment. I think I may incorrectly placing the blame on the potential destructive element of TV in my nephews’ lives, as the lack of Objectivism in all other facets of their lives, not just TV, are likely influencing the growing ADHD symptoms. Thanks for discussing this topic. It's given me a lot to think about.

Anthony said...

It seems to me that this is a result of the spread of materialism/determinism in the medical profession, and more generally in the population of intelligent individuals who have abandoned the more overt forms of mysticism. Whether it is a cause or effect is debatable (and it is probably both), but take a look at the "mental health parity" rules passed by congress. Free will has nearly been taken out of the equation legislatively. Health insurance companies are required by law to draw no distinction between mental processes and physical ones. A psychopath simply got the wrong mixture of hugs and time-outs as a child - there wasn't any choice involved.

Personally I do try to limit my childrens' TV watching. I'm not sure if it's a "hierarchy of knowledge" issue, but too much television seems to teach my children a Platonic, primacy of consciousness, view of the world. But the way I enforce this limit is by offering my children better options than watching television, i.e. taking them out into the real world. (At the moment my 9 month old is making such excursions difficult so TV usage has somewhat increased. I don't think this is going to cause my son any permanent damage - ultimately it will be up to him to choose reality over fantasy.)

Amy said...

After writing my own post, I've had more than enough screen time for the day. Time to go do something in the real world!

Heike L. said...

Interesting discussion - it made me reflect on TV/media use with our 2-year old. We do limit screen time in two ways - only selected shows, and only at a certain time of day (while I cook dinner and am busy also entertaining the baby.)

Our daughter really looks forward to that time - she asks for it when we forget, and will do things to make sure there's time for it, like putting her toys away quickly :) She can become 'mesmerized' - but often times, she is engaged like with a book, if the show is right.

She'll laugh out loud at funny things - like 'Little Bear' putting a pillow on the floor for his shadow - she'll tell me to come look at scenes, and she'll learn quite a bit. For instance, she's learned about shadows from that same show - and laughs as she tries to catch hers outside, and imitates one of the characters by saying 'YOU ARE YOUR SHADOW' and laughing out loud. Or she learned about echos when 'Little Bear' discovers one in a cave - and pointed out to me that there is an echo in our shower (yes, there is!)

I think the key principle here is to use TV (or videos on the computer, in our case) deliberately. The right shows, in the right, limited amounts, can be fun and educational for the child - and can selfishly help me as the parent to get things done. That's a much better outcome than whining all through dinner prep time, which isn't fun for her or me, and isn't educational at all.

Amy said...

Heike, I like your selfish approach! Your comment reminds me of one thing we do with Sam: we try not to let her watch TV 2 or more days in a row. This is not a hard and fast rule, but we didn't want to get in the habit of having a "TV time" every day. That might change if we have another child, though!

Principled Parent said...

This post and the post about food and freedom were really interesting and I've been thinking about them all week.

How young were your kids when you let them take on these freedoms? I ask in thinking of its application in my own parenting. For example, I offer Charlie many choices throughout the day (like white cheese or cheddar cheese for a snack), but at 19 months he's not developmentally able to make real decisions about meals. He also LOVES the Baby Einstein videos, but we limit the amount of time he can spend each day watching them--but now I'm not sure that we need to be limiting the amount of time he spends. This now requires more thinking.

I guess I'm wondering what developmental milestones you used to evaluate whether your kids were ready for these kinds of freedoms.

Thanks for these posts. As always your parenting posts are really thought provoking and create great discussion in our household.