Arguments against arguments against TV

NOTE: A couple of responses from this page touching on TV addiction have been moved to TV and Other Addictions.

There are much more than 2 books out there on tv is bad. and i did read Jane Healy's book. I don't believe i stated in my post the amount of research i have been doing on the effects of tv, but it's been ongoing for the past 5 years, since my first was born. From your response i'm getting the feeling that the responsible parent comment hit a nerve.

One thing it's helpful to keep in mind when reading research about kids -- all research not just research about TV -- is that all studies are based on schooled kids. Kids who watch TV after school are watching it for different reasons than unschooled kids who have free access. Schooled kids often watch TV as down time from the pressures of school. They are often detached from their parents because of the effects of school. They can even be alone after school.

There is a huge emotional and time price to pay for school. There's not just the time spent at school, but also the time spent getting ready, the time spent doing homework, the time spent recovering. That doesn't leave a lot of time for kids to do other more creative things. Not to mention reconnecting with their families.

How many adults come home from work ready to engage in activities that are creative or could spark creativity? Is it blamed on TV? Or is TV for relaxation seen clearly as a result of work?

So the question is how does the research done about the effects of TV on (schooled) children stack up against real live unschooled kids with no limits? Theories are great, but if they don't describe what happens in reality, then how great are the theories?

Here we have a bunch of families that don't limit TV but haven't seen the negative effects everyone predicts will happen to kids. Kids who aren't limited treat TV a lot like they treat books. It's a resource. And like books, some like it more than others.

I agree that TV is like a drug.

If TV were a drug, then kids who are in nurturing homes with unlimited access would show drug like effects. But we have real live kids with unlimited access to TV who don't act as though they've been drugged. How does your theory explain our "data"?

I think TV is designed to make people passive and uncritical (as in unthinking).

My daughter is neither passive nor uncritical when she watches TV.

When I worked I did like having TV for relaxation in the evening. But TV wasn't the cause. TV was the solution to what was causing the stress.

My daughter doesn't use TV that way because she doesn't have that need. She has a need for stories and she uses it as another story telling medium. It's no different than books and books on tape and comic books and story tellers to her.

I think this is part of our culture's general project to make people into consumers who have no desires beyond Target and McDonald's.

And that's an easy conclusion to come to when you take a broad look at society. But does that theory hold true when you look at individual families?

The messages in shows and movies that seem to promote buying stuff -- hot cars, flashy clothes, fancy vacations -- have had zero impact on my family. It's not that we live a simple life -- the house is overflowing with books and movies. My love of buying those things isn't fueled by TV but by a love of great stories and great characters and elegantly simple ways of explaining the complex.

In our home we treat commercials as (biased) information about what's out there, not as a directive to be consumers. I'm trying to think of the things we've bought because we saw it on TV. The only thing that's coming to mind is I bought a Swiffer but that wasn't until after Consumer Reports said they were good. We buy mostly books and movies and art supplies. Movies are advertised but we buy the ones that we saw and enjoyed. None of the other things feature prominently in commercials or in people's lives on TV.

A few years ago, my daughter would occasionally see a toy that matched her love of Pokemon type creatures (GigaPets and Scanners and such). But she was aware that the commercials didn't give her an accurate picture of how much she'd enjoy something. She has since found sources she likes better (magazines and the internet) for information about the types of things she enjoys.

I think TV reflects and perhaps reinforces an existing idea to a society that is already drawn to acquisition. But actually the idea of acquiring things is probably innate in being human. That desire to collect (food and materials for tools and clothing) allowed us to survive winters when things became scarce. And the idea of accumulating excess wasn't invented by TV! The rich have always been into big displays of what wealth can buy, 1000's of years before TV. TV didn't create the grand palaces in France and Russia! The difference between our society and those of the past is that more people can afford to display their wealth.

I think TV alienates people from one another. Even if you sit and watch TV with your children and discuss what is shown, you are still more alienated from them than if you were engaged in any other constructive and creative activity.

The theories sound sensible, but to be valid a theory needs to describe all the data. There are unschoolers here with "data" in their own homes that doesn't fit your theory.

In our home we do many family activities outside of TV -- games, sports events, going places, crafts, friends over. The quality of conversation doesn't depend on the activity. It depends on how something in the activity relates to the lives of the people involved in the activity.

How does your "TV alienates people" theory explain our experience with TV?

TV replaces interaction between people

We talk during movies. Things we've watched (fiction and non) relate to life and come up in conversation when we're away from TV. TV gives us another experience to talk about, not less.

How does your theory fit the data of our family?

and focuses their attention on a visual object.

Which is suggesting that people who need visual media in order to learn should try to change so they conform to "superior" ways of learning.

I prefer visual media. Are you an artist or writer? I do both. I find that images fuel my imagination rather than detract from it. I've always been drawn to visual expressions. I've always enjoyed comic books and the idea of presenting stories and information through that medium.

My daughter spent a lot of time the past year (when she was 10) watching TV. She was getting something from it -- images? stories? downtime? Whatever it was, she's back to drawing comics and generating pages and pages.

If I'd felt there were better choices than TV and discouraged her, implied that there was something wrong with her for liking what she liked, she would have been denied something she needed. In fact her comics are inspired by the Pokemon TV show so the fuel for 100's of pages of writing and drawing would have been missing from her life.

In fact my daughter and I are enjoying some anime (Japanese cartoon) shows and we've bought the manga (comic books) that spawned them. They are different forms of the same story. Sometimes changes were made and it's interesting to discuss why they were changed. Neither is superior. There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms. The shows have inspired her to read fan fiction. And, if she's true to the patterns of the past, she'll be writing fan fiction soon.

That's all because her attention is captured by visual objects.

My MIL once said she didn't see much value in coloring books. (She's a great lady and wasn't criticizing, just discussing an idea.) She thought blank paper was much better. But she doesn't draw so she doesn't know what value someone with artistic talent might find in coloring books. My sister and I both have artistic genes and had coloring books (as well as blank paper) and we both draw. Coloring books allow someone to experience how someone else has solved the problem of drawing certain forms. They allow some to just experiment with color which is not normally something that a non-artistic person would naturally see value in. It's likely they'd think it would be "good exercise" to be forced to both draw and color every time the artistic muse struck.

Our children are different than we are. We can't know what they need. They have different needs because they're children, not adults and because they have different genes and different interests than we do. Our goal should be to help them figure out how to meet their needs, not the needs others think they should have.

I don't forbid my kids from watching TV. We only have a few channels anyway. I do discourage it, though.

What if your husband had that attitude towards the type of books you read? What if every time you picked one up you knew he was watching and judging your choices? What if you knew he was thinking "She could be doing something far better with her time," or "She could be choosing something I find valuable rather than the trash she keeps picking up"?

As adults we think we know what's better because we're older. But that superior attitude affects kids emotionally the same way it would affect us as adults if someone felt their choices were superior to ours and we knew they were judging us and our choices.

I don't know what my parents thought of the programs I watched as a kid but I'm sure glad they let me have free rein. Most of it would probably be on TV-haters' crap list! ;-) But it filled something I needed. And since I had full freedom I chose not only "crap" but Shakespeare and science and nature shows. I chose what I needed, and explored things that were part of me. I wasn't trying to fulfill the needs that someone else felt I should have.

My son can make better choices than TV and I will certainly help guide him to make better choices.

As unschoolers our job is to provide the choices. Our kids' job is to make the choices. They don't learn to discern what's good and bad for them by memorizing someone else's list of good and bad.

Sometimes good is found in "bad". People put up with the negatives to get the positives. And then when the negatives outweigh the positives, they move onto something else. For example my daughter enjoyed 2nd grade at first, but eventually what she was getting out of it wasn't worth what it was taking out of her so she returned home.

This is important to me. I see what's on TV. Lots of violence. Lots of hate. Lots of artificiality. It's not real. It never will represent REAL people and REAL lives. TV lies.

While your observations on the surface are true, e.g., TV has a lot of violence, your theories are based on the pre-drawn conclusion that TV is bad. You're searching for data and theories that support your conclusion that TV is bad. When you examine your data and theories, they are full of holes. Newspapers are full of violence and hate. Books can be full of "artificiality" and "not real." (It's called fiction.) The things you're condemning TV for are not unique to TV.

I have made decisions and choices. I have considered the evidence. I have made my conclusions.

What does that mean? It sounds like a very scientific process. But using scientific phrases doesn't turn grasping at what makes us most comfortable into thoughtful analysis.

It's comforting to control TV. It's comforting to pick up a few pieces of data that support our theories about the evil nature of TV.

It's not so comforting to look at all the data objectively.

It is worth it though. And that's what people who have been at both ends are trying to get across when they say they're lives are so much better now that they aren't controlling.

Rahima Balwin's "You are Your Child's First Teacher" and many Waldorf inspired books and authors have led me to believe that the best place for the TV is in the closet.

I think it intellectually makes sense. It even makes sense in terms of books. Isn't it better to experience things than to read a book about something?

It even makes sense that if kids aren't taught the things they need that they won't learn them. It seems especially true of math.

But the real question is does the theory match reality? There are unschooled kids here with unlimited access to TV. Are they zombie-like? Are they lacking in imagination? Do they turn on the TV the moment they get up and are pulled away kicking and screaming at bedtime? Are any of the things the authors conclude will happen happening to these kids?

My biggest struggle is that I feel my 5 year old would sit there for hours on end watching.

Everyone who has said that and has truly let go of the limits -- that is not just for a couple of weeks but forever -- has found their kids can realize that TV will always be accessible and they can choose to not watch TV without fear that they won't be able to when they do want to watch it.

My 11yo daughter does take binges both watching and not watching.

At what point does the self-monitoring occur in the child?

It depends. If you expect the child to "self monitor" to an hour a day then the answer is never. If you expect the child to be able to freely choose what they find most interesting at any given time, then after they gain the confidence that TV won't be restricted any more, then they will obviously self-limit to how much they want to watch. It may be more than you'd choose for them, but it would be self-monitoring all the same.

There may be stumbling blocks. There should be opportunities that are more interesting than TV. If TV is the most interesting thing in the house, then limiting TV is like schools covering up the windows so kids will will find the teacher more interesting than the blinds. They may not want to miss a program. Kids can feel trapped by the TV station's schedule. They will rightly feel that if they don't watch something now they can't watch it later. But learning how to operate the record on the VCR helps there :-) Getting TiVo is even better.

And, actually a study was done that shows that some children, a limited number, do not think while "zoning" in front of the boob tube. Some children actually go into an almost sleep/dream state, a sort of self-hypnosis in which they brain waves patterns indicate no active thought patterns.

Can you site a source for this? I can't seem to find one. What I did find (over and over and over) is a quote from "Battle for Your Mind: Subliminal Programming" by Dick Sutphen:

Recent tests by researcher Herbert Krugman showed that, while viewers were watching TV, right-brain activity outnumbered left-brain activity by a ratio of two to one. Put more simply, the viewers were in an altered state . . . in trance more often than not. They were getting their Beta-endorphin "fix."

To measure attention spans, psychophysiologist Thomas Mulholland of the Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, attached young viewers to an EEG machine that was wired to shut the TV set off whenever the children's brains produced a majority of alpha waves. Although the children were told to concentrate, only a few could keep the set on for more than 30 seconds!

Left brain activity (according to an anatomy and physiology text) is associated with spoken and written language, numerical and scientific skills and reasoning. Right brain activity is associated with musical and artistic awareness, space and pattern perception, insight, imagination, generating mental images to compare spatial relationships. (No connection is made between right brained activities and being in a trance like state.)

From that list, it makes sense to me that TV watching would be a right brained activity. I suppose if there's something inherently wrong with right brained activities, we should stop kids from drawing and imagining and being insightful.

The text says that alpha waves are present in the EEGs of nearly all normal individuals when they are awake and resting with their eyes closed. These waves disappear entirely during sleep. Beta waves generally appear when the nervous system is active, that is, during periods of sensory input and mental activity. (Note that it says generally.)

(Just as an interesting factoid, it says delta waves occur during deep sleep but they are also normal in an awake infant.)

Another site says alpha waves are brought out by closing the eyes and by relaxation, and abolished by eye opening or alerting by any mechanism (thinking, calculating). Alpha waves are the major rhythm seen in normal relaxed adults - it is present during most of life especially beyond the thirteenth year when it dominates the resting tracing. (Alpha waves are also present during meditation and hypnosis.) And that beta waves are the dominant rhythm in patients who are alert or anxious or who have their eyes open.

That would suggest people aren't thinking when they watch TV. But does that make sense? I could list off a huge number of things that I've learned from watching TV. How can learning take place without thinking? There is also research into Controlling Computers With Neural Signals (in Scientific American) which uses Alpha and Mu waves. If alpha waves stop when thought happens, how could those waves be used to perform a computer action if we have to stop thinking in order to generate them?

What it really means is that people enjoy dabbling in pseudo-science. They are using faulty logic -- hypnosis may generate alpha but that doesn't mean alpha indicates hypnosis, thinking may generate beta but that doesn't mean that beta indicates thinking (or that lack of beta means lack of thinking) -- to draw a conclusion to fit their theory.

To get a more complete picture we need to know what the waves look like when we're deeply involved in a novel. Or watching a play. Or playing a video game. Or watching a sporting event. Or painting. Or gazing down at a sleeping or nursing infant. (Not that it would indicate anything. It would just be more data on how the brain operates.) If alpha waves increased during those times, should we stop those things? Or does it merely mean that "thinking stops alpha waves" and "beta is present during mental activity" are too simplistic and don't adequately describe what's going on?

I strongly encourage that everyone take a look at these two websites especially www.truceteachers.org (TRUCE stands for Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment).

To me it looks like they have strong opinions and are willing to grasp at anything that will support those opinions, like picking and choosing what scientific findings to present as "facts" and ignoring anything counter to their position.

From their"Facts about Children, Media and Violence":

• Children average 35 hours per week of screen time including TV, video games and videos.

That's sufficiently appalling to rally around. But think about it. That's an average of 5 hours a day everyday of the year. And since it's an average presumably some kids are doing more to make up for those who are doing less. Most kids are in school and have homework and, if our town is typical, they're way over-scheduled with afterschool activities. So how are they managing to squeeze in those 35 hours? They're either pigging out on the weekends and over the summer, or some kids are doing nothing but TV watching and video game playing!

So the question is -- if those are accurate statistics and I'm having a tough time figuring out how it's possible -- why? Are kids using video as a relaxant (as adults often do) from the stress of school? If that's so, how does that apply to unschooled kids? Do they have nothing else in their lives that's more interesting? Are they disconnected from their parents and families?

If kids are watching that much TV, is TV the cause or is TV the symptom of something else entirely?

We're a TV watching family and eat dinner while watching a movie. My daughter often watches cartoons and can watch as much as she wants whenever she wants. She does go on binges watching a lot of TV where she might make 35 hours in a week. And she goes on binges where she doesn't watch TV or play video games or get on the computer. But as an average over a year? Not even close.

• Heavy TV viewers are less imaginative, more aggressive, and have poorer concentration.

I would question that on a number of levels. First I'd question that it's a "fact" and not a conclusion. And poorer concentration? If they're doing anything heavily, then they're concentrating. I suspect whoever came up with the study means kids who watch a lot of TV can't concentrate on boring school work. Perhaps because they're visual learners which is why they are drawn to many hours of TV? Perhaps because they've realized the meaninglessness of school and are using TV as an escape so they don't want to concentrate on something they've concluded is meaningless?

Again, is TV the cause of this or a symptom? Are they aggressive because of their lives and find TV a satisfying outlet?

• Viewing media violence can make children more aggressive, fearful, disrespectful and insensitive to the effects of violence.

Is this true of kids who watch TV with their families? Who have a parent who is available to do things?

The problem with all studies is they study schooled kids. The researchers aren't aware of how huge an impact that school has on kids' lives. And even if they were aware it's not a factor that can be easily eliminated.

• Children's TV has 5 times as many acts of violence per hour as adult TV (26 vs 5).

It would be interesting how they counted acts of violence. Is Wiley Coyote getting blown up by his own inventions and stupidity violence?

Kids are wired differently than adults and most need actions to understand. They also think getting bopped on the head or having paint dumped on someone is funny. It's hard to have a superhero rescuing people unless there's some threat going on. Do kids watch action because that's what programmers are feeding them or because that's how kids make sense of the world? Kids games are action oriented and some are "violent" (involving contact). (Not that I don't think programmers wouldn't take advantage of the kids' need for action and program for maximum action to draw as many kids as possible. I think insisting stations supply so many hours of educational programming per day is a good thing.)

The misuse of science is a pet peeve of mine. Please remember that children under 5 are not able to make a strong distinction between fantasy and reality -- inappropriate programming can be incredibly damaging.

This is a more appropriate warning to parents who aren't attuned to their kids, who are separated from their kids because of work and school and day care. It's kind of hard not to be aware of what a child is getting from TV when we are living right beside them. Sometimes kids get scared. Spiders or action figures or picture books can scare kids. Sometimes kids get the idea they can fly. But part of unschooling is providing them a safe place for their fantasies and fears.

But, I don't allow unlimited tv. Not because I don't trust them or want them to decide, but because I do not want them exposed to the garbage that is on.

When we protect someone from something we are saying we don't trust that they're competent enough to handle it. When we don't allow something as a choice then we're saying I don't trust you to make the choice I would. So you may trust that they're good but you don't trust that they're competent. You may want them to decide but only if they make the decisions you would.

We assume when we use judgmental words like garbage that there's some universally accepted definition. Your idea of garbage isn't the same as your children's idea or my idea or my husband's idea. So what's your definition?

And why do you think your children will watch garbage? Because they don't know how to change the channel? Because the pull of TV is so powerful that they won't be able to change the channel even though what they're seeing makes them uncomfortable? Because TV will convince them that garbage is good?

I have read studies about how our minds become wired one way for tv viewing, and new paths are not made while viewing other shows. It is the same path when we are 5 that we have when we are 25. It is a passive task to sit there. This is my opinion, of course.

Being of a scientific bent, I'm drawn to studies. But what I've found is that real people with real stories of what and how they do things are far more meaningful. It's especially true with unschooling families. All studies -- unless they're specifically about homeschooling -- are done on schooled kids because essentially all kids are schooled kids so that's the norm. Researches have no clue how huge of an impact school has on children's behavior. By their nature schools are designed to separate kids from their parents and create basically a new family for them, a family of teachers and age-mates.

That seems harsh but when you look at it objectively, the major portion of a child's day is spent in school or preparing for school. Much of the interactions between child and parent have to do with school. But even more importantly, those hours spent under the influence of school are when the child is presented with challenges to test their values on. They are alone in one sense since they don't have their parents to support them and help them. And they are dependent on peers and teachers in another sense to see what values are useful and how they play out in action.

And it's not just that peers and teachers may have values that we'd rather our children not pick up. They have values that are unique to school. For instance we value helping each other but in school that's a big taboo. And when kids get home that bond between parent and child isn't as strong as it should be and kids won't share the things they're working through. They're getting used to -- in fact their parents are forcing them to -- watching and figuring out solutions on their own. TV is going to be another resource to them of values and how those values play out for them.

It takes some powerful communication skills for families to maintain the close ties they have with their kids before beginning school. Schooled kids are far more influenced in their values by sources outside their families.

In a loving home where children are respected and where the parents are involved with their kids lives (not glued to them but are with them and aware of what's going on with them and what interests them) TV loses much of the power that is found in homes where children are leading separate lives from their families.

I also just read another study that followed people from childhood until into the adult years, and the ones that watched violence, (shows like Baretta when they were younger), were more violent as adults. They were more likely to strike a spouse, be in trouble with the law, etc.

And you can find studies that say the opposite. The studies only study what and not why. Did the violent shows create violent adults? The studies imply that. Or are children who are filled with frustrated emotions who don't know what to do with them, who are in danger of becoming violent, drawn to violent shows?

Since many peaceful people enjoy watching violence that's a huge piece of data that contradicts the studies. Why someone is drawn to something is far more important than what they are drawn to.

Even though why is a far more important influence it's very difficult to design studies to study it. So researchers stick to studying what.

I agree 100 % with allowing kids to self regulate, but I just can't stand the stuff on tv.

Then you don't agree 100%. You only agree to the point where your kids are making the same choices you would for them.

I don't think you realize this but your opinions are saying that you feel that violence and disrespect (that they'd see on TV) is more attractive than feeling loved so your kids will turn their backs on what makes them feel good in order to hurt people.

Why do you think they'd do that?

I want my kids to be able to make decisions for themselves, but why would I let my 5 1/2 year old go see the movie Cody Banks? He really wants to see it, but I just can't do it. It has violence, it shows women in a demeaning way, etc. How can I justify that?

By trusting that your loving home offers his soul far more than a movie could. Why would he value the values expressed in a movie more than the values you practice at home and the values that make him feel loved and cherished?

If you recall a response that was here to a poster who accused me of being addicted to TV, it's been moved to a page on TV and Other Addictions.

 
 
 
Last updated: April 2009