tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

Self-Regulation, Creative Play, and Television


“Self-regulation is a critical skill for kids. Unfortunately, most kids today spend a lot of time doing three things: watching television, playing video games and taking lessons. None of these activities promote self-regulation.”

– Alix Spiegel

Unplug Your Kids has a very interesting post about an NPR article and interview. In this NPR article, Alix Spiegel describes how creative play is essential for the development of self-regulation and “executive function”.

Here’s a quote from this article:

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”

“Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”

Alix Spiegel then goes on to explain why it is that researchers believe that it is creative play that is crucial to the development of self-regulation and “executive function”.

For more on the importance of self-regulation see:

Self-Discipline May Beat Smarts as Key to Success – Washington Post

High IQ: Not as good for you as you thought  – Cognitive Daily


Does TV displace Creative Play?

Well as a matter of fact is does:

“The results also showed that for seven- to 12-year-olds, the more TV they watched, the less time they spent doing homework, and among kids of all ages — especially among those younger than five — more TV meant significantly less creative play.”

Update I: Fairies and Philosophy about CSS Parenting

Update II:  Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control about Tools of  the Mind

Update III:  The Serious Need for Play from Scientific American



4 thoughts on “Self-Regulation, Creative Play, and Television

  1. Those other articles that you link to look very interesting. I’ll have to check them out. I must say that I do find this to be a fascinating subject. The NPR story confirmed what my instincts had been telling me for years. And thanks for the link to UPYK! 🙂


  2. Yes, it really is a fascinating subject.

    I was listening to NPR the other day, and I heard
    a quick mention of this story and about how they
    had gotten a lot of questions. So many questions
    that they were going to do a follow up program
    of some kind.

    Experts have been saying for years that young kids
    need unstructured time to play and reflect, but
    then they never explain why. So this story
    really struck a nerve, an actual explanation of
    why play is important!


  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Delaware


  4. Hi Delaware, thanks for the kind words!

    The point I was trying to make was that:

    – Creative Play leads to better executive function

    – If, as according to this one study, kids of today have less executive function than kids of 60 years ago, that would imply that kids of today are engaging in less creative play than kids of 60 years ago.

    – Certainly the many hours that even the very young spend in from of videos and/or TV would explain the reduction in creative play and thus the reduction in executive function.

    That argument isn’t proved, but it does make sense.

    And I hope my explanation makes sense!


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