Children's Media Use: Good Distraction or Lazy Parenting?

I recently came across a study from a few years ago conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation that looked at the role of children's media use in the overall family routine. Most of the results were not all that surprising. Many children grow up in a media-laden household--including TVs on most of the time, some have TV in their bedroom, and computer use is fairly prevalent. Just a few statistics from the study:

  • 83% of children under age 6 use screen media (TV or computer
  • One in three children (age 6 and under) have a TV in their bedroom (19% of children 1 year and under; 29% of 2-3 year olds; 43% of 4-6 year olds)

The most common reasons given by parents for putting a TV in their child's room:

  • to free up other TVs
  • to entertain child while parents work around house
  • to reward good behavior
  • to reduce tantrums/arguments
  • help child fall asleep

Children's Media Use: Good Distraction or Lazy Parenting?

In other word, one of the main results of the study is that parents use media to cope with their children's behavior and daily routines. After reading this, I have to say it made me think about my own life and our culture in general. I'm not going to criticize parents' use of media for their children (although I do think a TV in the bedroom of a 4 year old is a bit much), because now that I have a toddler I do understand the draw of TV and other media. I admit it, I do occasionally let my toddler "watch" TV to distract or occupy him for a bit. I say "watch" because he doesn't really watch for long and then he's off to play with something else or find me.

What this article made me really consider is what did parents do before the invention of TV? Often when I have a parenting question or dilemma, I try to think about what parents might have done centuries (or more) before us. Back in the days of horse and buggy (yes, I'm picturing Laura Ingalls)what did parents do when they had to work around the farm, cook dinner or wash clothes?

Is our modern culture just too busy and complicated that we, as parents, can't find better things for our kids to do than watch TV? I'm asking this question of myself too. Did the parents of past centuries just include their kids in their daily tasks more and the kids learned to do chores sooner? Do we have expectations that are too low for our kids? Maybe we should just expect kids to start helping around the house sooner so that they are contributing members of the household and don't have to be "entertained" while the parents do all the work.

I think one issue here is that we don't have very good models for how to interact with our kids when we have to get work done. Putting them in front of a TV seems like an easy, obvious solution. I haven't seen many parents successfully able to engage a toddler in a household task but I think it can be done. The few families I know that have virtually no TV in their home, do seem to involve their children more in household tasks and eventually they learn to do it and maybe actually enjoy it. Personally, I think I'm going to make this a goal for my family. I know it will be challenging, but at least I'm going to try. Technology and media are becoming an increasingly large part of our lives, but they don't have to be a constant presence.

I welcome your suggestions and ideas!

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