Tags: Reading | Turnoff: | Television | and | Technology

Reading Turnoff: Television and Technology

Monday, 25 April 2005 12:00 AM

PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment are working to launch a 24-hour cable channel for preschool children. Honestly, I would have less to say about this deal were it to involve only Comcast and HIT Entertainment. There is a much to say given the involvement of PBS, since I never believed PBS was a legitimate function for government spending even when we had the Big Three networks.

The fact that its programming was heavily tilted toward the left only increased my interest in zeroing out its federal government funding. That the federal government is engaged in programming that will deter the healthy development of young Americans is an outrage.

On average children watch four hours of TV a day. That is four hours a child could spend at play, which would mean burning calories and energy. Studies have shown that excessive TV viewing can increase weight among young Americans. Another recent study by University of Washington researchers determined that there was a link between excessive TV viewing and bullying. Children who spent time reading and with their parents had fewer behavioral problems.

A study by Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis and several other researchers titled "Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children," published in the April 2004 journal Pediatrics, found that "early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attentional problems. This finding was present even while controlling for a number of potential confounding factors, including prenatal substance use and gestational age, measures of maternal psychopathology and socioeconomic status."

In fairness, the researchers admitted that their study did not take into account the quality of programs watched and that the measure they used to determine attentional problems was not equivalent to clinically diagnosed Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The researchers' definition of attentional problems was taken from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC) and there is a strong match between the problems listed on the CBC and those used to define ADHD.

Christakis and his co-authors conclude that it makes sense to severely curtail TV watching among very young children as a preventive step to inhibit attentional problems. If common sense has not led parents to this conclusion, then they can take the advice of pediatricians.

The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains that it makes sense to allow older children to watch quality television shows. (In my house "quality" programming for everyone regardless of age means no sex, excessive violence or offensive language.) AAP's advice for younger children is quite different from what the programming personnel at PBS evidently desire:

"The first two years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child's brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults to develop good language and social skills. Learning to talk and play with others is far more important than watching television."

AAP does not recommend allowing children less than 2 years of age to watch TV and advises sharply limiting the TV watching of older children.

First lady Laura Bush says: "Television is no substitute for a parent. It doesn't help develop language skills; it's simply background noise." Excessive television watching does not help develop reading skills either. The 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress's report on fourth-grade reading stated:

"Students who reported watching the most television, six hours or more, had the lowest average reading score, and those who reported watching four to five, had the next lowest score. Fourth-grade students who reported watching less television, either two or three hours or an hour or less daily, had higher and similar scores."

Television should not bear the whole blame for the problems of young Americans. Parents are the most important influence upon their children. Unfortunately some parents use the TV to compensate for their lack of interest in their children. Other parents, who recognize the power of that responsibility, will set proper limits for their children, including limiting their television viewing. They read to their children because they realize that developing their children's language and reading skills is too important to be left to the glitzy graphics of "Sesame Street."

Many families have decided to forego TV altogether and many more will participate in this week's "TV Turnoff Week." Families will forego a week of TV. (A PC-Turnoff Week will take place this year also because too many children use the computer for entertainment, not education.)

There are many other things that children can do other than just watching TV for the sake of watching – taking a hike, participating in a children's group at their church or synagogue, reading a book that really challenges the mind, even visiting their grandparents.

Government cannot be all things, and therefore it has no business regulating how many hours children watch TV or use a PC or what they eat at a fast-food restaurant. Those are roles reserved for parents. Civic groups have every reason to urge American parents to do the right thing by wisely limiting their children's eating and viewing.

PBS, with its federal government subsidy, has no business becoming involved with a venture such as a 24/7 cable channel for preschoolers. This partnership is one more way for PBS to continue siphoning federal dollars while proclaiming its business savvy. The federal government should at least divest itself of this venture, which is of no real benefit to American youth.

Many conservatives, including myself, believe that there is no constitutional need for bestowing federal funds on PBS or its parent, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Let PBS really compete in the marketplace, with no subsidy whatsoever from federal or state government. A privatized PBS certainly could try to air programs aimed at preschoolers in conjunction with Comcast (without government money) and other partners. Even so, I still would not want my youngest grandchildren to watch it.

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PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment are working to launch a 24-hour cable channel for preschool children. Honestly, I would have less to say about this deal were it to involve only Comcast and HIT Entertainment. There is a much to say given the involvement...
Reading,Turnoff:,Television,and,Technology
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2005-00-25
Monday, 25 April 2005 12:00 AM
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