Square-eyes

Watching over two hours a day of television is damaging to kids, according to the BBC, unselfishly reporting a study that clearly contravenes its own interests. This takes up a theme from past articles about stopping kids watching TV, on the grounds of behavioural problems, obesity or whatever is the current concern about kids and television.

Off the top of my head, I have a few questions about the evidence for all this.

  • Does “watching tv” mean sitting in rapt attention or having it on in the background, as so many of us do?
  • What are the mechanisms supposed to be that connect the square box and all these aspects of young humanity? Radiation? Mental torpidity? Engagement in popular culture? Exposure to advertising?
  • What type of tv? Are toddlers equally affected by watching CBBC or Men and Motors?
    Does the content make a difference? I’m prepared to argue that hours of watching reality tv and soaps would blunt the brain capacity of Einstein, but that’s just my bigotry. What about watching non-stop thought-provoking and educational programmes?
  • What about class effects? Middle-class kids are generally less likely to watch lots of tv. They are also less likely to be judged as having behavioural problems or be obese. Why single out tv as the crucial lifestyle difference, rather than, for example, having a decent family income, better access to other activities, less depression in the parents or any one of a huge range of distinctions?
  • Why two hours? Think of a number…..

My main quibble with the evidence is that it comes from people’s reports. When it comes to characterizing one’s parenting, no one wants to see themselves as being a “bad parent.” So, if they have soaked up any of the current standards in parenting, (i.e if they have any contact with other humans), they will claim to be keeping to them.

Parents who see themselves as bringing up their kids responsibly (who are probably those parents whose kids are least likely to fall on the wrong side of all the behavioural bars) are likely to say their kids watch a moderate apparently-ordered amount of tv. When these people are responding to survey questions, 2 hours sounds about right. They aren’t not exposing their kids willy-nilly to trash culture nor eccentrically cutting them off from the mainstream. This doesn’t mean it’s true.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hours of tv that children of self-identified responsible parents see (according to surveys…) can tell you what are the current social values for responsible tv watching. This is not the same as meaning x hours are healthy and >x hours are bad.

Do you know how much tv you watch? I have no idea. I can’t even define “watching” let alone count the hours.

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