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TV and multiple children

When Mia, my first daughter, was born, we didn't let her watch tv or videos until she was around 2 years old. Then, we started with age appropriate videos such as Teletubbies. She watched about 1 hour to 2 hours a day: hour in the morning so mommy could get her shower, and another hour at night so mommy could fix dinner. As she got older, we graduated to Blue's Clues, Disney Movies, and Dora the Explorer.

The problem is, our second daughter is not getting age appropriate tv. She got to watch videos from a very young age (can't even remember from when) and they weren't all age appropriate. Now she's 20 months old and loves Dora. I wonder sometimes what I am doing to her. It doesn't seem fair that she didn't get the same consideration as Mia.

So then yesterday I get this newsletter that summarizes research for parents. In it is an article about tv watching in young kids. It reports that :

"Television viewing before age three was associated with poorer reading recognition and reading comprehension (and lower scores in short-term memory) at age six. Television viewing from ages three to five was associated with better reading comprehension at age six."

So now I feel even more conflicted. Any others wrestle with this problem? I really value that tv time for emailing, getting dinner ready, taking showers, etc. Does anyone else have good advice about how to limit the younger child's tv?


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I offer nothing except to second kbird's concerns. I find little 6 month old Jack craning his sweet little head around to watch Sesame Street and worry. Any advice and/or comments would be mucho appreciated.

I think it's a lot easier to have no tv than to try to limit it, especially when you have to have different rules for what the younger and the older can watch.

I grew up with no tv, so not having one was an easy decision to make. I have 2 kids, 3 and 6, and they entertain themselves.

Now, it's very true that I wasn't getting a lot of time to myself when they were younger, and it drove me batty. But I'd say that from when the baby was 2 and really became a playmate to his brother, I could get a lot of stuff done while they were playing. And now, what with legos, playdo, blocks, paints, games of "hoobah" (don't ask), etc. they keep themselves plenty busy.

I know this doesn't answer your question, but I just thought I'd put my perspective out there.

i agree that limiting tv is a good idea, but there are many factors related to reading comprehension that aren't exactly tied to tv watching as a single factor. if your true goal is to ensure reading comprehension skills then you can do some specific things: make sure you have times every day where you read together and point out pictures and encourage your child to make meaning out of pictures in books and make meaning out of what they see and experience in their lives. ask them questions about the shows they watch and have thoughful discussions about what the show means. people can be active or passive tv watchers. if you don't eliminate tv it can't hurt to help your child become an active-minded tv watcher.

i have trouble limiting tv sometimes, too. what works for us is picking specific shows and times that are acceptable and just saying "no" the other times. occasionally my daughter will tantrum about the "no" but then she dusts herself off and finds something else to do. good luck!

My baby is only 3 months old and he's really just starting to notice the world around him. I don't plan on sitting him down to watch any kids shows anytime soon, but my husband and I watch a fair amount of tv and I worry about him taking in the stuff that we watch. It seems like the tv is on all the time that we are home, whether we are sitting down to watch it or not.

My girls are 27 months and 10 months - - I was very concerned in the beginning about TV, however neither my husband nor I are big TV fans, so it really hasn't been much of an issue. My 27 month old has become a fan of the Baby Einstein video's, which are great little learning tools in themselves. We do make a point of reading throughout the day with both girls when we can and finding other activities, i.e. playdough and crayons for the eldest, and blocks, music, etc. for the youngest. I guess my point is - don't let it become too much of an issue, and introduce as many activites outside of TV to entertain them. Best wishes!!

the way that we use tv in our house is as a research tool. if our son expresses an interest in a subject we try and find a video (and books) about it at the library or on netflix. he wanted to know how glass was made and we found a good video about a group of glass artists and a series about dale chihouly at the beaverton library. we don't get cable or sattelite tv so our ability to get any television stations is limited (nbc only-fortunately-we'd be lost without the office) (and economical). i have found that he rarely asks to watch tv since we moved and when he does i usually let him (i'd say he watches about 1-2 hours a week at the most-mostly at his g'parents) what occupies him when i need to get things done is his library of books, the constant influx of books from the local library and his craft area.
i don't know how helpful that is but it's another perspective. granted, we're a family of 3 not 4 or 5 or 6 so our situation is different.

All of your comments have really gotten me thinking. I have such a conflicted relationship with TV, having grown up completely addicted to terrible stuff. We purposely have a crummy tv that gets nothing so that I can't fall back into that habit, which I would, in an instant.

So I tried to be vigilant with Max's watching--20 minutes a day, PBS only. And now he's 4 and really addicted to that 20 minutes a day, and it bothers me.

Baby Gennie does the craning-her-neck to see Elmo or whatever, too, so your comments have compelled me to change Max's 20 minutes to after her "bedtime" at 7pm.

Thanks for the ideas on this.

a friend ordered the actual study about TV that's cited for the evidence that "TV harms young children." one of the key findings, that upset moms from here to Portland, Maine, was that it didn't matter what kind of TV program your child was watching, from soaps to Sesame Street, it had the same impact.

Here's the problem with the study, though; it got all its data from ONE survey of moms, at one date. they were asked how much TV their children watched THAT WEEK, (hello under-reporting, hello FALSE reporting), they were asked how they were feeling that day, whether their children were learning well. that was cross-referenced from observations from their teachers. there were no diagnoses offered (like, learning disorders, or attention deficit problems), it was just observational.

in my opinion, that science sucks. and much though I'd like to say that my children only watch an hour of TV a day, or whatever, it's just not happening. Everett loves TV, and heck - I do, too. I think Dora and the Backyardigans and Diego are a kick. I work really hard at getting Everett a balanced amount of outdoor running time, and occasionally call for a house-wide TV turn-off when it seems to be becoming too much. other than that, I don't stress about it.

I'll let you know how the kids turn out :) that's my one-mom study!

Sarah has a real good point about the methodology of the study. Unfortunately, the study I reference had 12000 participants tracked longitudinally over years (they tracked them from under 3 until they were 6 years old). So I'm guessing that this study is a little more believable. It also DOES say that educational programming such as Sesame STreet, etc, does help 3 year olds. So I'm relieved not to have to worry about my older daughter!

I was mostly wondering how to deal with the younger child when the older one was watching her tv. As I really do use that time to get other stuff done, I don't think my lifestyle would include turning off the tv completely.

I tend to agree with Sarah, and wonder about the other influence factors in those kids' lives. What kind of TV are they watching? How much attention do their parents give to them outside of TV? Do they go to preschool or have other enrichment activities? I tend to take these studies with a grain of salt because there are so many outside factors that can't be controlled and have a huge impact on your child.

We are all huge tv watchers in this family, and I don't see that changing. My 3-yo daughter loves to watch Noggin & Sprout, but she goes to preschool five mornings a week and loves to do plenty of other things as well. She is a smart cookie and I don't think that her TV habits are going to "damage" her. She got into tv at about 18 months - before that, she'd ignore it. My 10 month-old son looks at it occasionally (esp. when he hears music) but other than that ignores it.

Now, leaving your kids for hours in front of Cops or Montel with a bag of Doritos and a can of Coke when they're two is a different story. But I think that any caring, involved parent can let their kiddos watch some TV and not have to worry about them being permanently damaged.

Kirsten, you made some great points. I would like to add that my issues with tv have little to do with reading comprehension or obesity, because I do believe we can do much to counteract those problems.

My issue is that tv, for the most part, replicates the sexism, racism, homophobia, and violence of American society. Also insidious is that it "brands" children and turns them into consumers.

I know that parents of toddlers and preschoolers may argue that is not happening. Maybe your kids are impervious to it, but I would add a possible caveat: "It's not happening...yet!"

As an elementary school teacher, I saw what happens next, when children graduate beyond the "Dora" programming and become addicted to purchasing the latest items touted on tv.

Maybe I am in the minority, but I say to hell with studies. They are always funded by a certain group who has a certain goal, and their research reflects that goal, whether their goal is to show how tv watching improves children's learning skills or how it degrades it and makes kids fat. There will always be a study to counter the findings of another study; that's the way research works. Either way, I don't buy into it when it comes to things like this. I simply try to be my child's mother as best as I can. I watch tv with him; I try not to use it as a babysitter, but you know, sometimes a DVD will play and we'll sing and dance to it while I'm making dinner and I don't think that's so bad. We talk about what he sees. We dance to the music. We sing along. We read the words on the screen. Granted he is only 20 months old, and doesn't watch much tv at all, but I think this falls along the lines of over-parenting for me.

Regarding Serena's comment about kids being addicted to purchasing the latest items touted on tv,today's children are exposed to the latest "gotta have it" item well outside of the tv realm. My son LOVES Elmo and all Sesame Street characters. When we go to the store, he gloms onto the SS books, the toys, the stickers. Has he seen even ONE episode of Sesame Street? Nope. Not one. But Elmo is on his diapers, his toothbrush, his organic crackers. The lines of commercialism have blurred so I don't think we can blame tv for as much as many people tend to these days.

Another great discussion...yeah Serena, I agree, teachers kind of get a different perspective on the whole thing; (the impact of t.v. on kids.) This is my 15th year in the classroom with preschoolers, and as I was just telling my hubby today, I can always pick out which ones are taking in television and which ones are not. You can't always tell by 3, but by 4 it's pretty clear. My son has been watching PBS since he was a toddler; (you know, no commercials, pretty benine programming...) Thought/hoped this would have less impact. WRONG! Oops. Dad and I are big tv addicts, and we have to figure out a plan before baby 2 gets sucked in. Dad is less committed than I am to the whole "no tv" thing. So there you have it.

I'm beginning to struggle with the TV concern also, as my four-month-old seems to be more and more interested in the great glowing screen than I would like her to be. Of course, it is wise to question the methodology of any research report and the motivation behind who is presenting the study. As an early childhood/elementary educator and librarian, the study that says TV viewing from ages 3-5 is associated with better reading comprehension at age six sounds questionable according to most reading development research/theory I am familiar with. That said, your overall approach to interacting with your child and exposing her to varied experiences will ultimately have the greatest impact on how she learns to read and experience the world. If you are concerned about reading development, focus on creating a print-rich environment in your home regardless of how much TV you decide to let her watch. Turn on the closed captioning so that watching TV also exposes your child to the printed word. Also, I suggest picking up How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike by Esme Raji Codell and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Some people consider Trelease controversial (his leanings are more whole-language than phonics based) but his book has a great chapter on television and might be helpful or at least interesting.

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