Kids & TV: The Boob Tube Is OK.

By Lauren Young
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under two should steer clear of the boob tube. But, a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation on families and their television viewing habits found that plenty of parents happily use TV as a babysitter. “Electronic media is a central focus of many very young children’s lives, used by parents to help manage busy schedules, keep the peace, and facilitate family routines such as eating, relaxing, and falling asleep,” the study says.

Since television has been a hot topic on the BusinessWeek working parents blog and other parenting blogs, I wanted to talk to an expert about the findings. I caught up with Deborah Linebarger, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications in Philadelphia. She’s one of a handful of researchers who track kids and their TV viewing habits. I felt like a better mom after our conversation. “We need to stop parents from thinking that they are bad parents and they are damaging their child by letting them watch TV,” Linebarger says. “It’s okay to use TV like other tools to meet a specific need.”

Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:

Q. Were you surprised at how frank so many of the parents surveyed were about the use of TV in their homes?

A. If you don’t use TV as a babysitter, you don’t have kids, or you are lying.

Q. Why is okay to let our kids watch TV?

Many years ago, when my oldest child was just three years old, I wrote an article that was published in McCall's, called, Television:The Ultimate Babysitter. I was becoming so tired of the elitist chatter that told mothers that they were awful parents if they allowed their progeny to watch televison. Perhaps that is why the title of my article was so "in your face."
Mothers, I believed, were entitled to the other opinion, that television can be a valuable educational tool (even without watching educational programming),and yes, even the ultimate babysitter.
I pointed to everything I thought that I had learned by watching TV as a child. As a city kid, I learned about nature, animals, people living on farms, historical periods in American history and culture. I learned songs, I "met" people from other cultures, saw foreign lands and heard foreign music. I saw and heard rock and roll,opera, ballet, orchestras. Need I go on? So, I could not understand, nor bear the constant intellectualizing and harping about the deleterious effects that television would have on my own children. I thought that it was complete nonsense, utter bunk.
Years later, I look back on that article, and still agree with my point of view. My oldest child is now out of law school, and just for the information of those elitists who turned their noses up at mothers such as I, she graduated from ivy league schools, and holds down a very responsible job at a very major firm.
So to all of those "intellectuals" who sit around bemoaning the fate of children whose uncaring and ignorant parents allow them to watch TV, let me say the following: You really do not know what you are talking about. You cannot look at one aspect of mothering, and infer from that any sort of future outcome, regarding the mental/emotional health of our children. Just back off of the guilt trip, please. Mothers have enough to deal with.