ControverSunday: TV

by Ginger on February 14, 2010

in Entertain Me, Oh Baby!

Perpetua over at Our Lady of Perpetual Breadcrumbs has started a weekly “thing” called ControverSunday, wherein those of us who are interested can all talk about controversial things–we’re starting with parenting stuff for the time being, but may branch out into other topics. This is my attempt at sounding even 1/2 as intelligent as the ladies over there.

This week’s topic is on television. Which, as luck would have it, is on my mind a lot lately. See, a few weeks ago, someone we know mentioned that they had read that exposing infants to television could lean to brain damage. Any kind of television, any kind of exposure.  Something about their brains not being able to process the speed at which the images move, or something like that. I’ve heard a lot of theories about television and kids, but actual brain damage was research I hadn’t heard about. And if so, Jackson is pretty much screwed.

At 5 months old, Jackson loves to watch TV*. He will stare at the TV, pretty much no matter what is on–sports, cartoons, Lost, you name it. But we don’t put TV on for him. There are no Baby Einstein videos, no PBS, no Nickelodeon. He watches what we watch–because he is where we are, and we like to watch tv.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a TV junkie. Well, having a baby didn’t change that. When he was a newborn, and eating every two hours for 30-45 minutes at a time, TV was a way to help keep me entertained and/or awake. While I was on maternity leave, it was a companion to help keep me from feeling isolated from the rest of the world. As he’s gotten older, we watch TV while he plays on his mat, or in his chair. And while I’ve begun to limit when we watch certain things, it’s usually more due to the loud/explosion-y nature or the “Mommy and Daddy need to concentrate to understand what’s going on” (hello, Lost) syndrome, than to any thought that we’re corrupting the kid, or harming his little brain.

Now, let me clarify here, just for my own sake. Despite what it sounds like in this post, the TV isn’t constantly on around the kid. Often, it doesn’t come on until after he’s in bed (see the aforementioned Lost reference). It’s rarely on during the day when he’s with his dad. And he doesn’t always care when it is on, as he’s too busy being tickled, or playing with his music box, or watching the cat or trying to eat his feet.

But, when it is on, I really and truly don’t think that the 2-3 minutes here and 5 minutes there of TV that Jackson sees is damaging. I pretty much think he likes the colors, light and movement–which, really, doesn’t seem that much different than a LOT of the baby toys I’ve seen. We don’t turn on the tv as the babysitter while we do stuff at this stage, but honestly I don’t think there’s any harm in Baby Einstein** when he’s a little older so dinner can get made or laundry done.

As the kid gets older, I fully anticipate that my thoughts on television usage will adapt and change. But in a generic, overall kind of sense, I don’t think that TV is inherently dangerous or bad. I think, like with most things relating to kids, it really kind of depends on how you use it, what kind of kid you have, and how you monitor it. But I reserve the right to change my opinion completely if the kid someday wants to watch Barney.

 *To be fair, the kid also loves to stare at my iPhone screen, the computer screen, the laptop screen, and just about anything with light and color. So, you know, there’s that.

**For the record, I don’t think Baby Einstein has any genius making properties. However, I think it’s age appropriate and visually interesting to babies. So while I think the claims to intelligence are bullshit, I think they’re fine for what they actually are–entertainment.

Lisa February 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Did this person mention where s/he read this?

Reason I ask is that something along these lines was mentioned in a class I took recently (just last week actually). We were talking about autism and the speaker mentioned that there is some VERY preliminary research that might show a relationship between autism and over-stimulation. It’s still really early and there might end up being no link at all. He also didn’t mention TV being any worse than any other flashy, bright, moving, loud toys, or anything else that would over-stimulate the child (and what’s considered over-stimulation anyway? I’d imagine that would vary from kid to kid).

Ginger February 14, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Lisa, we didn’t hear where exactly they had read the research. Since we were just discussing things casually, I’m not sure they would have had a source off the top of their head.
I do think that overstimulation varies from kid to kid. And lord knows that some kids toys are just as overstimulating as anything else (I swear, some of those toys are epilepsy inducing!), so we do try to keep in mind ALL the different elements he’s being exposed to in a given time frame/day.

Katherine February 14, 2010 at 10:16 pm

I am sure if you talked to them long enough, there would have been a whole list of things you were doing wrong and they were doing right/better.

And as far as the Autism thing, it seems circular since Autistic children are easily overstimulated to begin with.

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks February 15, 2010 at 8:07 am

Growing up, we watched a lot of TV. We weren’t ever really limited, so long as we were getting our school work done and keeping our grades up. And you know what? Both my brother and I were very accomplished in our own ways. Went to top Universities. And haven’t once relied on mom or dad to support us in the decade since we graduated college. If that’s the kind of brain damage that exposure to TV gives us, then bring it on.

Perpetua February 16, 2010 at 9:42 am

Great post! I’m a lot like you in that I do have the tv on, but it doesn’t interfere with my interaction with the baby. And when it comes to the stuff we really watch, like DVDs of tv series, those don’t come on until after E is asleep. Because we actually want to follow the plot. 🙂

Good point about the toys, too. There really isn’t much difference between his v-tech walker, with all the lights and sounds, and the tv. It’s just another loud noisy thing. If there IS a connection between over-stimulation and brain damage, we’re all in trouble. Restaurants, rides in the car, grocery shopping, they’re all very stimulating.

Dana February 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Hey Ginger,
I stumbled upon your blog as I was cleaning out my email 🙂
I feel like I’m all caught up! I’m so sorry about your cat, I hope he wanders home soon.
Funny you mention the TV thing though. I was just talking about it with Greg yesterday. I can’t believe the junk that’s presented to small children. You definately have to preview everything. Channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon network are ridiculous, there’s too much adult humor going on. And kids repeat everything they hear.
I don’t think it causes brain damage although, I have been warned to not expose them to TV before the age of 2, It could cause ADD. And if that’s true, my kids are also screwed!

Ginger February 16, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Nilsa, that’s how I was. Granted, I was a goody-goody kid, but I remember watching TV while I did my homework, and I turned out ok, much like you.
To be fair, I think it’s a little different when kids are older than right now, but overall, I still think it’s not TV itself that is the problem.

Ginger February 16, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Perpetua,
We pretty much live in an overstimulated world–kid or no. I also think it’s interesting to think about how different the world our kids will grow up in is from the one we grew up in as far as stimulation, media, and exposure. The world is vastly different now than when I was a baby, and I can’t even imagine how that difference will affect my parenting choices in the future.

Ginger February 16, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Dana, good to see you around here again!
I do think that you’ve got to be careful with what is presented to kids. Honestly, we watch cartoon network because my husband likes comics (ah, to be married to an artist), and I would NEVER let a little kid watch most of those shows. So I think it means you’ve got to be aware.
Plus, I think the more you can avoid commercials, the better. But I think that for grownups too!

small town small times February 19, 2010 at 11:45 am

I watch TV, my kids watch TV. We have three TV’s on the first floor alone.

My kids have active lives, they are not overweight, they have friends. Some days I only feel sane after watching a little Bravo and knowing at least I’m not as crazy as those Housewives.

Seriously, I am of the belief that it’s all about moderation. I think super-structured, overparenting can lead to anxious children. But that’s me.

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