Turn Off That TV—You're Disturbing Dr. Greenspan

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In another groundbreaking study, the Kaiser Family Foundation discovers that parents use TV to keep their kids occupied. The New York Times story about the study includes comments by parents who not only admit to this secret shame but let the paper use their real names.

The headline over the story is "Parents Making Use of TV Despite Risks." Yet the Times never gets around to explaining exactly what those risks are. Here is the closest it comes:

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist and author of books on child development, said the results of the study are troubling.

"We are moving as a society in the wrong direction when it comes to important principles of child direction and development," Dr. Greenspan said. "Parents are being misguided by societal messages, and this study gives us a chance to correct these misperceptions."

Dr. Greenspan and others said that given the trend toward pushing the benefits of educational television and videos for infant and toddler development, more research needs to focus on that area. Studies have proven that educational programs like "Sesame Street" can aid learning for older children. But few studies have focused on developmental outcomes for children under 3.

So because TV has not been conclusively shown to "aid learning" by toddlers, it must be bad for them? What if it merely entertains them while Mom or Dad cooks dinner or takes a phone call?

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  1. Really, Greenspan hasn’t been the same since he left the Fed.

  2. As a parent of two little kids, I don’t know why anyone would be worried about 0-5 year olds watching TV. All their shows are completely innocuous and with Tivo and On Demand, you don’t even have to worry about commercials. Clifford, the Magic School Bus, Dora… these are all fine.

    What I’d be worried about is the fat, lazy 12 year olds who watch MTV and think it’s appropriate to wear jeans that hang half way down their asses – that look only works on Britney Spears (pre-baby), fatso!

  3. Parents are gonna need something too, once the Republicans catapult all those nannies and babysitters out of the fortress.

    I hope they don’t start calling this the War on Television. …but if they do, I’m gonna start callin’ it the War on Single Mothers.

  4. My friends have twins… They were all gung ho to not do the TV=babysitter thing, then they discovered the soothing powers of Fraggle Rock, and it was all over.

  5. What worries me is that these people who use the TV as a babysitter or allow their kids to watch a LOT of TV might also join the screaming religious masses that complain to the FCC whenever programs air content that is unsuitable for their children.

  6. When my baby watched the Baby Einstein stuff for the first time, I could see the wheels start turning in her head. I don’t know how you’d assign a qualitative value to that for a study, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.

    I think Ken Shultz just nailed the “societal messages” that we should worry about the most in this area.

  7. but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real

    Nor, Joe, does that mean it was real. I see my kids do all kinds of things that other people don’t.

  8. I used to work in a child care facility handling rather high care level foster kids. Overwhelmingly they would have been less damaged had they watched TV than saw what their parents were doing.

  9. For a short time, the only way I could get my one year-old daughter to stop being fussy was to put Short Circuit in the vcr.

    Was exposing her to Steve Guttenberg at so early an age child abuse? I’ll leave you to decide.

  10. Is it wrong that my three year old can sing the theme songs to Family Guy, the Simpsons, and Malcolm in the Middle?

  11. Doubtless these kids will all grow up listening to noise which isn’t anything like the music we had in my day. And wearing trashy clothes that they would never have been let wear out of the house in my day. Dammit, kids! Get off of my lawn!

    It will all be TV’s fault, you know. They’d have turned out just fine otherwise.

  12. If the missus and I would like a solid 30 minutes of solice in our afternoon, you can bet your Aunt Fannie’s last dollar that Fairly Odd Parents is coming on.

    Unless Dr. Asshat is volunteering to baby-sit so we can get a few moments of quality adult time before 10PM, he can fuck off.

    As a parent, I can more than compensate for whatever “risk” my munchkins take in from Spongebob or Kim Possible.

  13. What I’d be worried about is the fat, lazy 12 year olds who watch MTV and think it’s appropriate to wear jeans that hang half way down their asses

    Grownups are so funny. I remember the same comments when I was a teenager 20 years ago. Okay, not the jeans specifically, but other clothes that were supposedly not “appropriate.” And hey, MTV actually played videos then–which, according to most people older than me, was the end of music.

  14. I’m sure Dr. Greenspan would simply recommend that parents who need a break from child-rearing bring in a nanny or au pair to share the burden.

    Worked for him, after all.

  15. Is it wrong that my three year old can sing the theme songs to Family Guy, the Simpsons, and Malcolm in the Middle?

    You could do worse. I’ve always thought pop music could be a wonderful way to introduce children to concepts they can learn more about as they intellectual develop.

    Case in point, when I took a Constitutional Law class in the late 80s, the professor asked one young man to read the Preamble. And of course, being Gen-X’ers raised on School House rock, we all thought the U.S. Constitution came with a libretto.

    I’ll never forget the look of the perplexed 60-something professor as a class full of 20-somethings all started singing in unison “We the Peeeeee-ple, In order to form a more per-fect yoon-yuuuunnnnn … “ like a bad 70s Coke commercial.

    (LOL) One of my favortie college memories …

    Give me School House Rock over that god-awful Laurence Tribe tome any day of the week …

  16. Is it wrong that my three year old can sing the theme songs to Family Guy, the Simpsons, and Malcolm in the Middle?

    You could do worse. Plus, Seth McFarlane seems to have a better appreciation for good music than most animators. I’ve always thought pop music could be a wonderful way to introduce children to concepts they can learn more about as they intellectual develop.

    Case in point, when I took a Constitutional Law class in the late 80s, the professor asked one young man to read the Preamble, which he thought was unfamiliar to most of the class. And of course, being Gen-X’ers raised on School House rock, we all thought the U.S. Constitution came with a libretto.

    I’ll never forget the look of the perplexed 60-something professor as a class full of 20-somethings all started singing in unison “We the Peeeeee-ple, In order to form a more per-fect yoon-yuuuunnnnn … “ like a bad 70s Coke commercial.

    (LOL) One of my favortie college memories …

    Give me School House Rock over that god-awful Laurence Tribe tome any day of the week …

  17. “What I’d be worried about is the fat, lazy 12 year olds who watch MTV and think it’s appropriate to wear jeans that hang half way down their asses”

    They were once 2-5 year olds watching Dora, Clifford, etc.

    I’ve got no problem with it. They will be competing against my kids in a few years. Not that my little tykes don’t watch TV, but I have seen a lot of people use it way to much. We feel bad over the hour a day our kids watch, but many go 4-5 hours (and tell people only 1-2 hours)

  18. Brian24:

    The clothes aren’t the problem – it’s the fat rolls hanging over the jeans that’s really nauseating…

  19. Lemur: No. And let’s throw in the themes from Juniper Lee and My Gym Partner’s a Monkey. We’re currently trying to learn to hum the theme for Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, but it’s tough.

    Cartoons are what the three of us can watch together as a family – all of the grown up TV Daddy and I like is inapp (I’m sure Justice League and Duck Dodgers go right over her, but she loves them). When we inadvertently run South Park with her in the room, our 4 year old says “I’m not supposed to watch South Park” and we say – oops, you’re right – thanks.

  20. I think someone messed up the headline. My quick read (of another paper’s version of the story) would merit a headline like this:

    MOST KIDS WATCH ONLY 2 HOURS OF TV A DAY!

    which I would venture is far less than anyone here would have guessed.

  21. I was entertained as a toddler by the original Superman series, The Lone Ranger, I Love Lucy, Liberace, etc.

  22. It’s just another example of the government, researchers, teachers, and other carbon copy institutional nanny-state-o-philes making ordinary people feel badly for the way they live. Not a person alive grows up without some deficit. The parents who trip over themselves to eliminate all deficits have their kids’ bowels tied up in neurotic masses; I’ve seen it. The best kids I’ve met have the parents who draw the line where it matters (staying out til 2 a.m.) and let the small stuff go. But what do I know; I’m just a regular Jane-shmo voter who couldn’t POSSIBLY know what’s best for me or my kidlet without some FatKat telling me.

  23. I bought the Jonny Quest DVD set and my 5 year-old son was hooked like a crack money for 2 months solid. By the end of that ride, *I* was sick of Dr. Quest and the boys.

    A Looney Tunes DVD didn’t go over as well with both kids, which surprised me. I really thought they would dig the Road Runner series and the whole Chuck Jones era. Go figure.

    But, as much as I dig Jonny Quest, the Venture Brother puts it to shame. Looks like it’ll be another 10 years or so before I let the kids see that one.

    And Todd, my kids watch 2 hours or so per day, plus a movie on Fridays (when they haven’t lost that privilege). I’d put them up against yours any day. Bring it.

  24. If they don’t watch TV how the fuck are they going to learn about Star Trek?

  25. I suppose the next great announcement will be the results of a long and expensive study concluding that college students drink a lot of coffee so they can stay awake to finish term papers.

    I started out with the No TV NEVER idea, and had pretty much caved before Andy, the older boy, was four months old. He has an Xbox. He eats candy — Reese’s qualify as their own food group in our house — and still reads better than any other kid in his class. He just finished 2nd grade, and reads 5th grade. The four-year-old counts to 20 in both English and Spanish, knows the alphabet and can write his own name. So, let me add my voice to the chorus that TV isn’t the worst thing ever to happen. Also, I have to say that now I like cartoons better than I do adult shows. My deeply guilty secret is that I like Jimmy Neutron and Kim Possible as well as Andy and Aaron do. The Lilo and Stitch series features a male transvestite alien cyclops “married” to an evil genius with a Russian accent, also male, making me wonder why the fundies haven’t showed up at Disney headquarters with torches and pitchforks. For that reason alone I encourage TV.

    In order to avoid having CPS ruin my weekend, I do need to point out that we take the boys bike riding three or four times a week and to the YMCA pool every weekend. Neither kid has anything like a weight problem, and both get lots of interaction with other kids. I just sometimes like to do laundry, cook dinner, or talk to my husband before 10 p.m., and the Disney Channel permits that.

  26. Karen – amen, sister. Some of my friends think it’s weird that I like the kids/tweeny cartoons as much as Talky Girl does. We both love Kim Possible, I like Lilo and Stitch more than she does, and she loves Ed Edd n Eddy – I can’t stand em. Our mutual favorite is Juniper Lee
    (when she’s older I’ll introduce her to Buffy).

    I don’t think I ever believed, deep down, that I could raise a no-TV child. Between me and the Daddy, it just wasn’t gonna happen. But Talky Girl is way smart, and so far she’s very active and skinny, and she eats a lot of fruit and veggies and not much sugar – that’s my trump card against the “you let her watch TV every day???” stay at home soccer mom beeyotches. (“What do you mean, he’ll only eat McNuggets? A kid eats what mom says he eats, or he doesn’t eat. End of story. Let the little bastards miss a meal, and see who will only eat McNuggets.”)

    Venture Bros is brilliant – but it’s a mommy and daddy show.

    I mourn for Recess. That was a brilliant cartoon. Anyone ever watch the one where TJ was captured by the kindergardeners and went native?

  27. I bought the Jonny Quest DVD set and my 5 year-old son was hooked like a crack money for 2 months solid. By the end of that ride, *I* was sick of Dr. Quest and the boys.

    I had the Jonny Quest flashback in a carpool conversation the other day. Maybe I have Dr. Wertham’s jaded middle-aged eyes, but I think it’s a little weird that a Southwest Asian kid with no apparent parentage is hanging out with two grown bachelors and a son. Some us wondered if Hajji was being sexually abused.

    This led to the idea of the Frank Miller version of Jonny the grown-up. Hajji grew up and joined Al Qaeda as revenge for the Quest’s family’s human trafficking and pederasty. Jonny Quest, now working for the CIA, is torn between his feelings for Hajji and his duty as a “wet guy” to snuff out Hajji. Race Bannon and Dr. Quest, now retired, are running a bed and breakfast in San Francisco.

    I don’t understand how grown men can read comic books without cracking up at the ridiculousness of it all (Robert George, this means you).

    Just thinking about ridiculous “superheroes” that I used to read as a kid makes me explode in laughter. Let’s see, The Creeper: near-naked man with a striped thong and a red feather boa for a costume! (demographic must have been kids into Wayland Flowers and Madame)

    Or, Black Canary. A woman with top hat, tails, and fishnet stockings riding a motorcycle is not a superhero, she’s a stripper for NASCAR ….

  28. BornAgain: do you watch the cartoons on AdultSwim? One of the best is Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law; each episode finds Harvey handling the case of another cartoon character in trouble (Yogi Bear and the Unibooboo; Fred Flintstone is the Yabba Dabba Don and the whole thing is a great Sopranos parody – you get the idea). One of the best episodes had Dr. Quest and Race Bannon splitting up and fighting for custody of the boys. Race should’ve gotten them, of course, cos he was the primary caretaker – according to this ep, I can’t really remember the original series, altho I did watch it.

    Frigging insomnia.

  29. “Or, Black Canary. A woman with top hat, tails, and fishnet stockings riding a motorcycle is not a superhero, she’s a stripper for NASCAR”

    You’re mixing up two different characters. Zatanna the Magician wore a top hat, tails, and fishnet stockings. Black Canary wore fishnet stockings and rode motorcycle (and occasionally has a sonic scream, depending on continuity).

  30. Stubby, you’ve got it on “Ed, Edd, and Eddie.” That’s got to be the most annoying cartoon in the history of animation. I banned it around here just because it annoyed me, and so that I could tell the other soccer moms I actually banned a cartoon. If I don’t see them watch it, however, it’s not on. (That’s the same rule for hitting or getting hit. If I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. Since it works with both kids, they understand that hitting means brother can get you back out of my sight, which somehow manages to make both of ’em behave.) Go figure.

  31. I weep for the children today. I grew up at the best possible age, raised as I was by:
    Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)
    Fred Rogers
    Chuck Jones
    Jim Henson
    I’m sorry but there just isn’t anything for kids today that can hold a candle to those great gods of toddler entertainment when it come to nurturing young minds to think for themselves.

  32. I think I’ve done the whole “we don’t have a TV” thing here a couple of times, but we do let the kids watch DVDs on the computer sometimes – and in case anyone here with kids isn’t aware, The Electric Company is available in a 4-DVD set.

  33. Grownups are so funny. I remember the same comments when I was a teenager 20 years ago. Okay, not the jeans specifically, but other clothes that were supposedly not “appropriate.” And hey, MTV actually played videos then–which, according to most people older than me, was the end of music.

    Grownups are so funny. I remember the same comments when I was a teenager 40 years ago. Okay, not the jeans specifically, but other clothes that were supposedly not “appropriate.” And hey, 45RPMs actually played Rock ‘n Roll then–which, according to most people older than me, was the end of music.

  34. “And hey, MTV actually played videos then–which, according to most people older than me, was the end of music.”

    Well, good thing they took care of that whole “music videos” thing. I don’t think MTV runs any of those anymore.

  35. MTV used to play music. Me & Mrs TWC spent lots of Friday nights with a bottle of wine and some decent music videos.

    Then they quit and VH-1 filled the gap for a while. Now… VH-1 offers an endless parade of antique (classic) headbanger music headlined mostly by Judas Priest and I can’t for the life of figure out why no other music video TV stations ever play music videos.

    CMT and GAC excepted, which could explain the popularity of country music. then again CMT seems to have opted for Friday night reruns of Boss Hogg……

    TV actually does suck and I am with Rich Ard. We keep it to a dull roar and may be one of only two homes in America where the Idiot Box doesn’t blare from kitchen to bathroom and every room in between during every waking hour of the day.

    TV does rot your brain, it also turns your muscles to jelly, it IS a good baby sitter, and the worst part is the PC crap inherent in every cartoon show with Disney being the absolute worst.

    And all the cartoon chicks can kick the crap out of all the cartoon guys. Gives a sort of oddball perspective on reality.

  36. My niece and nephews are Pavlov’s dogs. They get in the Honda Minivan (the one that holds sheets of plywood perfectly) and immediately start screaming for the TV. I do mean screaming. Pop in a DVD, the screen comes down and they shut up.

    If that isn’t the definition of the Opiate of the People I don’t know what is.

    Oddly enough, they seem normal enough otherwise.

  37. TWC: my nephews are the same way – my sister must turn on the DVD the instant they start the car. But in this case, I’m sort of on the kids’ side. I don’t know how old you are – I’m 42 – I didn’t spend the first 5 or 6 years of my life strapped down in a carseat – we roamed the back seat like wild animals (when I was a toddler, I stood on the front seat, sort of wedged in behind Mom’s right shoulder – for safety, you understand – cos apparently her right shoulder would keep me from flying through the window). I imagine being strapped in like that, particularly on a day when Mommy is running all over town or suburb, would drive anyone crazy. The DVD takes their minds off their imprisonment.

  38. I imagine being strapped in like that, particularly on a day when Mommy is running all over town or suburb, would drive anyone crazy.

    If only books were still available…

  39. PEDIATRICS Vol. 116 No. 4 October 2005, pp. 851-856 (doi:10.1542/peds.2004-2788)

    The Association Between Television Viewing and Irregular Sleep Schedules Among Children Less Than 3 Years of Age
    Darcy A. Thompson, MD, MPH*,{ddagger} and Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH{ddagger},?,||

    * Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program
    {ddagger} Department of Pediatrics
    ? Child Health Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
    || Children?s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Seattle, Washington

    Background. Regular sleep schedules are an important part of healthy sleep habits. Although television viewing is associated with altered sleep patterns and sleep disorders among children and adolescents, the effect of television viewing on the sleep patterns of infants and toddlers is not known.

    Objective. To test the hypothesis that television viewing by infants and toddlers is associated with having irregular naptime and bedtime schedules.

    Methods. We used data from the National Survey of Early Childhood Health, a nationally representative, cross-sectional study of the health and health care of children 4 to 35 months of age. Our main outcome measures were whether children had irregular naptime and bedtime schedules. Our main predictor was hours of television watched on a daily basis. We performed multivariate logistic regression analyses, adjusting for a variety of factors including demographic information, measures of maternal mental health, and measures of family interactions, to test the independent association of television viewing and irregular naptime and bedtime schedules.

    Results. Data were available for 2068 children. Thirty-four percent of all children had irregular naptime schedules, and 27% had irregular bedtime schedules. Mean hours of television viewing per day were as follows: 0.9 hours/day (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.8?1.0 hours/day) for children

  40. Children’s television viewing and cognitive outcomes: a longitudinal analysis of national data.

    Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA.

    Child Health Institute, and Department of Health Services, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. fzimmer@u.washington.edu

    OBJECTIVE: To test the independent effects of television viewing in children before age 3 years and at ages 3 to 5 years on several measures of cognitive outcomes at ages 6 and 7 years. DESIGN: Using data from a nationally representative data set, we regressed 4 measures of cognitive development at ages 6 and 7 years on television viewing before age 3 years and at ages 3 to 5 years, controlling for parental cognitive stimulation throughout early childhood, maternal education, and IQ. RESULTS: Before age 3 years, the children in this study watched an average of 2.2 hours per day; at ages 3 to 5 years, the daily average was 3.3 hours. Adjusted for the covariates mentioned earlier, each hour of average daily television viewing before age 3 years was associated with deleterious effects on the Peabody Individual Achievement Test Reading Recognition Scale of 0.31 points (95% confidence interval [CI], -0.61 to -0.01 points), on the Peabody Individual Achievement Test Reading Comprehension Scale of 0.58 points (95% CI, -0.94 to -0.21 points), and on the Memory for Digit Span assessment from the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children of -0.10 points (95% CI, -0.20 to 0 points). For the Reading Recognition Scale score only, a beneficial effect of television at ages 3 to 5 years was identified, with each hour associated with a 0.51-point improvement in the score (95% CI, 0.17 to 0.85 points). CONCLUSIONS: There are modest adverse effects of television viewing before age 3 years on the subsequent cognitive development of children. These results suggest that greater adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines that children younger than 2 years not watch television is warranted.

  41. Oops, results for Thompson study got cut off…

    “In our logistic regression model, the number of hours of television watched per day was associated with both an irregular naptime schedule (odds ratio: 1.09; 95% CI: 1.01?1.18) and an irregular bedtime schedule (odds ratio: 1.13; 95% CI: 1.04?1.24).”

  42. Yes, Rich, there are many books in my backseat, and Talky Girl likes to look at them, but she can’t read yet, and looking at pictures gets boring.

    Besides, how many people can read in the back seat? I would puke.

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