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Television-watching by kids has reached an eight-year high, according a recent report from the Nielsen Company. Specifically, kids ages 2 to 11 are watching an average of more than 24 hours of TV a week, with 2- to 5-year-olds watching about four more hours than their older counterparts (who have this thing called “school” eating up their valuable TV-watching time).
This report includes televised live shows, recordings, videos and game systems. Nielsen says that in addition to kids' interest in TV picking up, interest in other media, like the Internet and mobile, also remains steady. “They're not giving up any media—they're just picking up more,” says Patricia McDonough, Nielsen's senior vice president of insights.
Whereas kids of the past bonded with friends, family and pets (read: living things), it’s clear contemporary kids are bonding with media. But note to kids: while a DVR can play anything you want, anytime you want it, it can never trade lunches with you or save you a seat on the bus.
The Nielsen report comes out just as Disney begins refunding consumers for their purchase of Baby Einstein DVDs. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood forced Disney’s hand on this one, arguing that early claims about the educational value of the DVDs were misleading, if not outright wrong.
You need not look far to find evidence that extensive TV watching doesn’t do kids any favors. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Washington found that babies who watched videos learned fewer vocabulary words than infants who never watched the videos. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger than 2, and less than an hour or two for those older than 2.
My own unscientific home research reveals that three school-age kids can more easily identify a television remote control than a catcher’s mask, a postage stamp, a record player, Lee Majors or a kiwi. I failed the same test with a socket wrench, a painting by Matisse and a kumquat.
This is all pretty depressing, so I pledge right here and now to start engaging and modeling more human-to-human interaction among myself and my kids... so long as it's not at night—that’s Law & Order time.