Dumbing Us Down--TV

Mbradford1 (Mbradford1@aol.com)
Wed, 1 Apr 1998 11:28:51 EST

Dear Teresa,

Regarding TV, you wrote:

"One significant result is a reduced attention span. "

I'm curious about the evidence for this claim. The kids I know have amazing
attention spans, including my 5 year old daughter, who is allowed to watch TV
whenever she wants. The key is that they must be doing something they WANT to
do. I have heard teachers complain about students' attention spans many
times, but of course they never questioned the incredibly BORING assignments
they were forcing on their students. If there are studies about this, are
they measuring the attention span relative to really boring tasks, or relative
to something the test subject loves?


You also wrote:

"But now, he just begs and begs to watch more cartoons. We have a one hour
time limit, and that is very difficult to enforce. He'd watch all day if he
could."

I challenge you to try to get your son to watch TV all day for a week. I bet
he wouldn't make it. I bet he would be begging you to be able to do something
else within two weeks, tops. I WISH I could get my son, age 3, to watch more
TV so I could have a minute to get the dishes done. He just isn't interested
in it. But then again, I have never limited TV, so he doesn't see it as
forbidden fruit. On the other hand, whenever we have friends over who have TV
limits at home, the first thing they want to do is watch TV. If the TV is on,
they are immediately mesmerized, whereas my children are begging them to stop
watching TV and come play.

My daughter could watch TV all day at school, because there is a TV there, but
she almost never watches it, even for a moment. (The rare exception - a
really good fight on Jerry Springer. Then, if she doesn't mind interrupting
whatever activity in which she is immersed at the time, she goes to see what
all the noise is about.)

I've noticed that the kids who watch a lot of TV at school are the ones who
came recently from public school. I think that is mostly because they haven't
"deprogrammed" yet from being told what to do for 8 hours a day. I also think
kids watch so much TV when they get home from school because they are really
exhausted from having to concentrate on school work in a rather stressful
setting all day long. I know if I have to go to an all-day lecture
conference, by the time I get home all I want to do is vegetate in front of
the TV.

I think if our school didn't already have a TV, we probably wouldn't even have
one, because I doubt that the students care enough about the TV to actually
write a motion and approve the money to buy one. I know at other Sudbury
schools they have gone years without getting a television.

My daughter watches TV like I do. We make a point to watch the few TV shows
we really like (Rugrats, Little Bear, Star Trek, X-Files, occasionally Scooby
Doo), but other than that we only watch it if we really have nothing to do
(which isn't very often) or if we are tired. I think it is very important for
kids to make the decision for themselves what is the best way to spend their
time. I think the earlier they start making those types of decisions, the
better they will become at it. TV truly is today's medium. It is a huge part
of American culture. Our kids will be exposed to TV at every turn. Why
shouldn't they be well-versed in it? Look at Steven Spielberg, after all. He
didn't turn out so bad!

Besides, who knows what they may be gaining from it. We as a society are
quick to look at the negatives of TV exposure, but what about the positive
things? Who knows, maybe the hardwiring in the brain could be better off as a
result of this exposure. When I sit down and watch a movie with my daughter,
I can't believe how many questions she asks. It is a nonstop stream of
questions. I am amazed at how many questions a movie can stimulate in her
little brain. And she is very clear about what is real and what is not. We
talk about it frequently. If she isn't sure, she asks. On the other hand, we
had a playmate over and he freaked out and burst into tears over a claymation
movie that my two kids love. It so happens that his mom limits what he
watches to Little Bear, Mr. Rogers and train videos. I think he just didn't
understand that it was a story, it wasn't real.

So there you have it - my radical little tirade on TV, for what it's worth.
Could be I'm trying to defend kids' freedom. On the other hand, maybe I'm
just a miserable product of the TV generation myself.... I'll leave that to
you all to decide!

Melissa Bradford, big fan of such choice selections as "Cow and Chicken",
"Dexter's Laboratory", "Speed Racer", and "Space Ghost, Coast to Coast"