Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Good Way To Watch TV With Your Kid

As long as there are televisions, you will probably see stories about the negatives of letting children watch it.  So if you are a new parent, or a born-again new parent, you are going to see stories about how television viewing leads to every conceivable negative outcome you could dream up for your child.

Lack of reading skills; check.  Lack of focus or concentration; check.  All of this will of course lead to a life of crime.  All from television.

These stories and studies miss two important things that make parents’ jobs and lives harder:

1) There is a correlation/causation thing going on here and 2) there is a “good” way to watch television with your child and a “bad” way.

Lets get to the first issue, well, first.  Correlation.  To paraphrase Forrest Gump, good parenting habits are what good parents do.  Plenty of parents park kids in Pack-And-Plays and leave them to their own devices.  That isn’t that much different than parking them in front of television.  Yet many people who have no problem with the second would worry about the first.  But consider: It may not be that watching all that television is bad for children, but that negligent, uncaring parents use it as a baby sitter.  Take television away and leave the kid with a book and nothing else for 4 hours and the child may turn out exactly the same.  So how do you know if you are a “good” parent?  If you took them time to read this story chances are you care about your child and thus are a “good” parent. 

Partly (mostly?) because of the role of genetics, good parents tend to raise good kids; this is true almost regardless of the tactics they use.  If at conception your child is blessed with a 120 IQ, he/she is likely to max that out, regardless of what you do.

Now lets address the “good” way to watch television with your child.  Notice I said with.  When you read a book with your child, you probably point out colors or certain characters or ask the child to find certain things on the page.  Watching television with your child doesn’t have to be any different.  DVRs, which allow you to stop the show or rewind, make this even easier.  You can now pause the show and ask your child what letter is on the screen, or how many fish Elmo has, or what color pants Donald Duck wears*.  If it’s a rainy day out and the kids are ruining your house and mental health, you can sit with them in front of the television without parental guilt about ruining their chances of getting into Harvard or creating a new race of super criminals. 

Of course, this means you can’t use it as a “sit-them-and-walk-away” babysitter.  However, it can buy you an hour or two or even more of guilt-free, sanity-saving, quiet time.

*Trick question.  He doesn’t wear pants, of course.

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