When you have young children and you need to do a chore or take a break from them, the easiest and cheapest thing to do is sit them in front of the television. According to several news stories this year, parents are doing this more often than in the past and starting when their children are very young-even babies. The problem is you could be doing more harm than good.
The most disturbing story to hit the press was the study lead by Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Seattle, Wash. His team concluded watching television as a toddler raises the risk by almost 10 percent of being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by age 7.
If this is true, Christakis’ research validates the advice the Academy of American Pediatrics gave in 1998. The Academy said children under two shouldn’t watch any television, and children two and older should be restricted to one to two hours per day.
Even though it gives you the chance to do the dishes faster or take a well-deserved break, could you do what is right for your child? Could you turn your television off, or, even worse, chuck it?
Ten years ago, my wife and I got rid of our television. Except for three weeks, when we brought it back to watch the 2002 Winter Olympics, our set sat in a storage unit until we threw it away about two years ago.
When we were thinking about getting rid of our television, we didn’t consider what the Academy of American Pediatrics said. We couldn’t have imagined an increase in ADHD.
Our thoughts centered on the fact our children couldn’t handle television. Their lives were consumed by it. They wouldn’t come to dinner on time, and they weren’t doing their homework.
Then a large portion of the content wasn’t appropriate for them. My wife and I aren’t prudes, but we insist the shows and movies our children watch be gauged to their ages.
The same should be true for commercials. I say this because when we were watching a show that was appropriate for all of our children, quite often, a commercial would come on that wasn’t.
If you think you need to chuck your television for your children’s sake, let me tell you what you can expect. We took our set to the storage unit when our children were in school. When they came home and found out what we had done, they complained a bit and then found something else to do.
The most significant change is the library became very important to them. My oldest child, who didn’t (and still doesn’t) like to read, was forced to. Today she finishes a book every one to two weeks. When my middle child was in fifth grade, she read on a twelfth -grade level. My youngest child probably did the same. I know he read The Hobbit when he was in third grade.
The time away from television allowed my oldest to try different sports and to become accomplished in two of them. My middle child is a very talented dancer, singer, and actor. Like his oldest sister, my youngest has played a variety of sports. In addition, he excels at science and math. Not long ago, instead of asking me who my favorite professional basketball or football player was, he asked me who my favorite physicist was.
If you think you should get rid of your television but can’t because you have to watch your favorite shows, do what we do. We have two computers with DVD drives. When we want to watch a show, we rent the series.
The disadvantage is the shows are usually a year old. The advantages are you don’t have to watch any commercials, and you can watch one episode after another to your heart’s content.
If you think you should chuck your television but can’t because you have to watch sports, let me give you a suggestion. Become interested in your local high school, college, or university teams. Some play as well as their professional counterparts, and they don’t live 3,000 miles away. They’re your neighbors. You should be interested in them more than strangers who live in Atlanta or Seattle.
If you think you should junk your television but can’t because you have to keep on top of the news, I know firsthand you can be better informed by checking the Internet, taking a daily paper, and listening to an hourly radio report.
I see televised news only when I’m at the gym. That’s when I learn how they cut the grass at the golf course, prepare an omelet at Joe’s Breakfast Emporium, and what the president ate Thanksgiving Day.
Then I get to hear lots of insane babble: I’m referring to highly-paid commentators who are long on opinion and short on knowledge.
My family isn’t the only one who’s chucked their television. If you look, you’ll probably find one or two people in your town. A few years ago, I met a woman in Provo, Utah, who said her family chucked theirs in the 1970s. Last year, I met a couple from Colorado who haven’t had a television for 10 years.
Unless you really have to hear about the latest medications for ED every 15 minutes, you can live without your television, too. If you chuck yours, I’m confident your children will be more accomplished in sports or the arts and smarter. The ones who don’t like to read, will have to. The others will read well above their grade level.
Then when your son or daughter tells you, “Everyone says Albert Einstein, but I like Niles Bohr for his quantum model of the atom,” you’ll know you made the right decision. By then, you’ll even enjoy the peace and quiet.