The bad news, announced in a new study this week is that American children aged 2 through 18 are spending an average of two hours and 46 minutes watching television each day. Even worse news is that they are spending much of that time watching alone.
Back in the olden days, when most American families had only one television set, and there were just three networks to choose from, television watching was a family activity. In fact, just deciding what to watch required delicate negotiations, which sometimes degenerated into a brawl.
Dad wanted to see the baseball game. The kids absolutely had to stay up to date on their favorite weekly sitcom. Mom sat in a corner of the living room, reading the paper and refusing to get drawn into the fray. Eventually, one side was victorious, and the victor and the vanquished sat down together to watch the action and jumped up together to run to the refrigerator during commercials.
According to the Washington Post, Stanford University Professor Donald F. Roberts, an author of the study that was released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, speculates that when families began to upgrade their TV sets, they started to give the kids their own sets as a way to avoid those family feuds.
But there was a time, even as more two- and three-television households evolved, that there still seemed to be some television taboos. There might be a tube in the kitchen, the family room and Mom and Dad's bedroom, but not in the kids' rooms. It wasn't just a matter of money, it was a matter of what was appropriate. It wasn't considered good for children, especially the youngest ones, to hole up alone in their rooms, watching TV.
Today, however, according to the new survey, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 32 percent of 2- to 7-year-olds and 65 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds have televisions in their bedrooms! It seems so sad, so lonely, especially in the context of other recent studies that show that what children want most of all is to have their parents talk to them more.
But itÂ's so so easy to get caught in the TV trap. Televisions become instant baby sitters for toddlers. Just plop that 2-year-old down, and you may not hear a peep for an hour or so. Older kids will relentlessly lobby for their own sets, simply because "Everybody has one," and "We can afford it."
But it takes a lot of strength for parents to hold the line, to refuse to grant our children those seemingly simple wishes that may in fact isolate them from us.