Why do parents allow their kids to watch so much TV?
Obviously part of the problem is that the TV/movie industry has been so incredibly effective at convincing most people (including parents) that TV is beneficial, educational, and at the worst harmless.
But, I do think there is a deeper reason. And that is that throughout human history parents have, to a great extent, had a quite laissez-faire attitude towards their kids. After looking after their children’s physical needs, and making sure they do their chores, go to school, do their homework, children have been very much left to their own devices. And this has been a very good child-rearing strategy. Why? Because children know the secret of learning, which is to learn through play. Children have a powerful instinct for playing. So all those hours that parents allow them their freedom are not wasted, they are put to good use.
The child benefits from all the benefits of play, and the parents also benefit from getting a break from their kids. It’s important for parents to play with their kids, but adults don’t have the energy, stamina and enthusiasm for play that kids have. The parents are going to get tired of playing long before their child has had enough.
Up until the TV became pervasive, this laissez-faire attitude among parents has been a good thing. Now, unfortunately this attitude of allowing kids to do as they please, has lead to huge amounts of television watching. TV is naturally addictive, but even more important, it is parents that are encouraging their kids to become hooked on TV:
But in Wednesday’s follow-up, Kaiser asked parents — in a survey and in focus-group sessions — why they and their children use TV and other electronic media the way they do.
“I had this sense of kids clamoring to use media and parents trying to keep their finger in the dam,” lead researcher Victoria Rideout said. “I found that not to be a very accurate picture in most cases.”
Instead, a generation of parents raised on TV is largely encouraging the early use of television, video games and computers by their own children.
These parents say TV and computer games teach the ABCs and how to share when they don’t have the time. Television provides time for parents to cook or take a shower. They use screen time as a reward or, paradoxically, to help kids wind down at bedtime.
“There’s this enthusiasm and tremendous lack of concern” about media use, Rideout said.
Parents enjoy watching TV, and enjoy watching TV with their kids (quality time together). It is much less stressful for the parents if the kids are quietly watching TV instead of running around making noise and making messes. Plus, a child quietly watching TV inside is usually safer than a child playing outside, and must less worry-producing for the parent.
The Importance of Play
Peter Gray (a research professor of psychology) has an excellent blog, called Freedom to Learn, on why play is so important:
The Lack of Play has Experts Worried