Kids on TV: Adventurous or In Danger? (Depends on What You Watch)

Hi yahnbshifs
Readers! This little note just got me thinking. Read it and I’ll give you my thoughts. It’s from a guy named Barry Jacobs in Brooklyn and
here’s his blog. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I hate the media. Watch shows aimed at kids on Nickelodeon or Disney– they show kids with amazing imaginations, doing things with unbelievable freedom, having exciting adventures and almost always being smarter than the adults. When parents are shown, they are usually genial characters with vague, but obeyed, authority.

Compare that to the network news aimed at adults: Kids are stupid and need to be watched 24/7 or they will stick all ten fingers in electrical sockets.

No wonder society is so screwed up! We tell the kids one thing and the parents something else. — Barry

Lenore here. I think there’s even another angle: Sure, Disney and Nickelodeon  SHOW kids having adventures. But the networks really exist to keep kids SITTING ON THE COUCH.  So their aim, in the end, is the same as the news shows’: Keep everyone inside, watching the screen.

And in the end, much as I hate the “if it bleed, it leads” mandate of the news shows, it irks me even more that Disney and Nickelodeon and even PBS purport to celebrate an active and  imagination-filled childhood while actually working to undermine it, by feeding kids a constant diet of crack. Er…kiddie shows. (And let’s not even get into the fact that almost all of those shows have product tie-ins — Disney supposedly sells 40,000 different princess items. So they are basically out to capture our kids’ imagination, money and childhood. ) But otherwise, they’re great. — Lenore

have adventures! “] have great adventures!”] have great adventures!”]


75 Responses to Kids on TV: Adventurous or In Danger? (Depends on What You Watch)

  1. Anthony Hernandez June 30, 2010 at 1:36 am #

    I think letting kids watch TV is fine, PROVIDED:

    A) they have gotten PLENTY of exercise that day, and

    B) they balance their TV watching with other activities when indoors, and

    C) they watch TV in moderation.

    Also, if the kid is sick enough to require bed rest or remaining indoors, then I’ll relent with the TV more.

  2. Mae Mae June 30, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    Barry – That is an excellent point that I had never thought of. You are so right!

  3. montessorimatters June 30, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    Well said, Lenore! TV and imagination are orthogonal at best. It makes my stomach churn when I hear a child repeating some dialogue he heard on a cartoon program, and the parents get all excited because “he’s using his imagination”. grrr…

    Last year, I had two students who were leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else, academically, socially, and emotionally. Guess what? They were the ONLY TWO KIDS in my entire classroom who did not watch TV because they didn’t have one at home.

  4. SKL June 30, 2010 at 2:00 am #

    Another issue with “great kiddy shows” is that this is what starts kids idolozing people on the screen. “Wow, if I were that person, I’d be able to do that!”

    My kids have little screen time and almost zero TV. Many people have warned that they would not keep up with their peers. That was true in some regards when they were about 2. They talked a little less than some of their peers (though that could be because they never heard English until they were around 1). Also, they didn’t know about Mickey Mouse and Spiderman until their second day of preschool (at age 2.5). So I guess you could say I was a terrible mom. But I could produce a pretty long list of areas where my kids excel. A couple key areas – their “readiness to learn” and their general behavior. And they have no trouble creatively flling the gap left by TV deprivation.

  5. Elizabeth June 30, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    ” even PBS purport to celebrate an active and imagination-filled childhood while actually working to undermine it, by feeding kids a constant diet of crack”

    Actually, PBS does not show constant children’s programming. It shows children’s programming for between two and five hours per day, depending on the network affiliate. Most of these are repeats if it’s five hours per day, mainly so you have two options to watch Sesame Street.

  6. pebblekeeper June 30, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    I like to point out to the kids – that most of these shows do not have a tv in the living room – that if the family is watching a tv show – it is to hear a report and then go take action to change what they’ve heard – and that we are sitting – watching these kids have fun and pursue interests. 🙂

    Listening to an adventure book on tape with the boys while I do some online work an they finish lego challenge creations – then heading outside. 🙂

  7. Dot Khan June 30, 2010 at 3:05 am #

    I’ve worked on production crews providing interview segments for TV shows and documentaries, but not children’s programming.
    Some shows like Mythbusters use entertainment to demonstrate using a thinking approach in testing the validity of an idea or building something. My disappointment is that they also dumb it down to spectacular explosions and warn viewers to Don’t Try This At Home. I’d rather for a show that balances the safety precautions used on Mythbusters with The Tinkering School showing people how to have fantastic adventures.
    Years ago, someone said that 80% of all programming is aimed at the bottom 20% of the population. I suspect those numbers are off now. People tend to turn their brains off when they use the TV remote control.

  8. Elfir June 30, 2010 at 3:05 am #

    Kids shows about teen pop stars transition quite nicely to reality shows “discovering” the next pop stars, ya know? Get them dreaming early, then get an unpleasant British fellow to crush their dreams!

    Looking back, I appreciate the irony of enjoying Salute Your Shorts while hating real summer camp, enjoying Hey Dude while being kinda scared of real horses, etc.

  9. helenquine June 30, 2010 at 3:10 am #

    I do really dislike the tie-ins to merchandise. But I think it’s really up to parents to set the limits on what their kids watch rather than letting them watch stuff simply because it’s available. What works for one family doesn’t work for another.

    The mixed messages between “kids are brilliant and cleverer than adults” and “kids are vulnerable and incapable” are more to do with a media market place that is compartmentalized and tends to flatter its target demographic.

    I did see some reports on studies a few years ago that showed though adults *say* they think watching TV all the time is not a good thing and doesn’t make them happy, on average they recorded states of greater happiness while watching TV. So I think there is good reason why we do consume so much and I don’t want my favorite shows to disappear!

    I would like to see schools teach media skills from a young age. Actually get children really thinking about what they are consuming media wise, why it was produced, what its impact is on many levels, etc.. Maybe encourage them to be more discerning as media consumers.

  10. Kim June 30, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    Eh. I know parents who go on and on about the evils of TV. They say that tv turns brains into much and they would never let their kids watch tv. Never. They are much too smart for that. TV is for idiots. However, every single time I show up at their homes unexpectedly, I find the kids in one room watching TV, the mom in another room watching TV and the dad in yet another room watching TV. Usually they are also on their various laptops. Therefore, when people say they don’t watch TV and they don’t permit their children to watch TV, I tend to not believe a word they say. 😉

  11. Kim June 30, 2010 at 3:57 am #

    Elizabeth, there is a channel called PBS Kids. IT shows kids programming 24 hours a day.

  12. esmeraldasquietlife June 30, 2010 at 3:59 am #

    I have a tv, but no “television”. Instead, we have an Xbox which we use to stream tv shows (commercial free) or play video games. I’m not really opposed to video games becasue I myself play the dang-doodly out of them and don’t feel inellectually hampered by them. In fact my hand eye coordination is much better than it used to be. (I did not grow up with video games)
    They are also interactive and require more than a passive blank stare.
    What I DON’T like are commercials. That’s why I don’t watch any tv, though there are (a few) shows that I really enjoy. That I solve by renting or streaming videos.
    I find that my attention span is unaffected (when I used to have cable it was wretched) and my stress level is very low. I don’t feel dependant on tv (again, whereas with cable I used to feel distinctly addicted) and I can indulge in moderation and not feel bombarded by ads.

    Since we don’t have cable, I don’t think the “tv” issue is really important. SInce we don’t have any reception where I live without cable, we simply don’t have access to any channels at all- I like having the media around (netflix) for an occasional movie or show, but for the most part I am MUCH happier without television.

  13. esmeraldasquietlife June 30, 2010 at 4:01 am #

    It’s REALLY funny that I misspelled because and intellectually when I was saying that. heh.
    WP needs a spellcheck option for the comments!

  14. Ted June 30, 2010 at 4:05 am #

    @Anthony Hernandez…. I couldn’t agree more.

    @montessormatters… I don’t question the experience that you have had in your classroom, but I’d like to point out that the implication of your post is that having a TV in the home and watching it makes kids academically, socially and emotioanlly stunted in some way is a sweeping generalization no more helpful to parenting in the modern world than the idea that it wasn’t safe for Lenore to allow her son to ride the subway home in the city… it’s different for each child, each parent, each situation and we shouldn’t generalize without knowing specifics.

    As for our house, we allow the kids to watch TV – probably too much by most standards, but we also talk to them about what’s going on in the shows they watch, what situations are realistic and what situations aren’t.

    Even though they are only 8 and 5, we talk about the hidden messages that the media are trying to convey to them… already trying to get them to be critical consumers of media.

    I think that TV and media consumption is one small area of the larger helicopter vs. free-range parent balancing act. I don’t want to shield my kids from TV and music. I want to be there for them and be involved with their early consumption of media so that I can help them to understand what it is that they are seeing – both in the actual scripted content and in the tie-in marketing. On balance, I feel that one of the most important jobs I can do as a parent is to give them critical thinking skills to aid in their filtering of media messages they will receive in life.

  15. Lara June 30, 2010 at 4:17 am #

    To me it is part of life that kids watch TV. We do have one TV that is in the living room. We do not have any other TV anywhere in the house. We choose the shows to watch and then afterwards turn the TV off.

    I would be careful to apply statistics about linking TV and intelligence too directly. There are many influences that cause children to act a certain way and to do good in school. Not all can be linked to TV watching time.

    I personally do not like extremes. Not allowing TV time at all is not as good as some parents make it out to be. A healthy balance is good.

  16. Elizabeth June 30, 2010 at 4:24 am #

    I had no idea that PBS had a cable station. My kids shall be social outcasts as I was… sigh.

    I do want to say that the original post is much more interesting than the TV vs. no-TV debate. I mean, if you watch Dora, Diego, or even Sesame Street one thing that jumps out is how these kids are all playing and doing stuff UNSUPERVISED. Oh, and I also saw the Backyardigans the other day. There was this huge race with no adults ANYWHERE.

    What made me sad was how totally removed this was from our kids’ everyday existence. Not only are they not outside, but they are not exploring. Everything is choreographed for so many kids. I try to give my kid free time at the park but it’s tough as the park is a small patch of land.

    It’s like the programmers either know this is a child fantasy, or they are totally disconnected from how kids today are living.

  17. Donna June 30, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    I don’t do TV at my house. Not that I have a moral issue with it – it’s just that we’re too busy. I don’t like the background noise.

    We had one in the living room, but it broke.

    I don’t want to spend money for cable.

    The only working TV is in my bedroom, and kids are not allowed in there.

    We watch TV and DVDs in the wintertime, when the weather’s nasty, but it’s summer now. I’m sending my kids outside to play.

    It’s so wonderful, going outside and hearing my son explain knighthood to the neighbor kids so they can play. (Usually it’s Jedi knights, but that’s OK. I’m a Star Wars fan myself.) And seeing the kids on the swingsets. And digging in the dirt.

    And having to call them in because it’s getting too dark to see.

    They’re 9 and 7, and my grandsons, 6 and 4 are usually here too.

  18. SKL June 30, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    My biggest reason to be so picky about TV watching is my youngest daughter, who pays far too much attention to everything she sees and hears. She’s not ready for too many of the messages on TV, even if I sit and explain them to her. (And I most definitely will be discussing whatever the eventually see on TV, at least until they have learned to watch with a critical eye.)

    I agree that TV is a part of “life.” Personally, though, I do not watch it, so I am not going to re-arrange my life so my kids can do so. Probably when they are a little older, I will let them choose some programming during the winter months.

  19. Elfir June 30, 2010 at 4:44 am #

    By the way, I adore the B&W photos you keep finding to go with these topics, Lenore!

  20. Sky June 30, 2010 at 4:56 am #

    Actually, I have nothing against kiddie shows. It’s not crack. Parents can turn it on or turn it off, set any limits they like. As a parent, I LOVE the variety available today, compared to when I was a kid, particularly the educational variety. I have more choices to better suit my kids, and it’s up to me how much I let them watch.

    Now, what I don’t like about modern shows is that so many of them seem to teach a disrespect for parental authority. The parent is the idiot; the kid is always smarter, that kind of thing. I wish that were not the trend. But, of course, I can always turn it off…however, I do wish there were fewer modern choices that downplayed the wisdom of the parent.

    I let my kids watch TV, and, for now, I let them self-regulate how much. So far, they don’t seem to have abused the privilege. They turn it on and off when they want. And they read and play outside and do their school work and all that stuff too. I don’t have a problem with it.

  21. This girl loves to Talk June 30, 2010 at 4:58 am #

    I used to let the kids watch way too much tv. Having four kids when busy with the baby at the time I used tv as a babysitter.

    I have tried several times to ban tv, it was near impossible – kid rebellion.

    We have never had tv in the morning before school (four years now) but afternoon tv was drivng me bonkers! Anyway we have gone now 10 weeks with NO TV. The kids only complained once! I dont know if I just got some magical luck, or got my timing right, but I know life is MUCH BETTER.

    Kids that watch no tv are a bit weird in my opinion, so we have fridday night movie night and they can rewatch on a saturday while we still have the rental. Has worked a treat so far.

    That said it is winter holidays here in australia (2 weeks) and they wanted tv on for the holidays. I said yes, but honestly am regretting my decision.

    and yes i think it sad that kids tv shows kids doing awesome amazing things, while kids themselves are Zombies…

  22. Sky June 30, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    To add a by the way about fitting in with peers….

    I let my kids watch about as often as they want from what we have, but we don’t really have “TV” as such anymore – we have no reception – we just have instant streaming from Netflix and the internet, and DVDs. So there are many popular shows my kids don’t see (not available on streaming), yet they aren’t at all culturally illiterate among their peers. For example, my daughter knows all about Hannah Montana, even wants a Hannah Montana lunch box, tells other girls they look cool like Hannah Montana – even though she has NEVER ONCE seen a Hannah Montana TV show. You can’t escape popular TV anymore than you can escape the air you breathe. Kids will pick up on it – watch it or not – as part of the culture of children. And they won’t be totally out of place just because they haven’t actually SEEN it.

    I suspect most parents let their kids watch far more TV than they admit. And I would be more stringent if I felt my kids didn’t spend a lot of time playing. But let’s be realistic. They’ve just watched 2 hours of TV. SHOCK! 2 hours! But today they’ve also spent 1.5 hours swimming, 2.5 hours at the park/playground, 1 hour doing academic worksheets (for fun, because they like to), 2 hours playing with each other, and 1.5 hours playing with other kids. And it’s not even dinner time yet. I just don’t see that adding TV to that mix is going to rot their brains or bodies. There’s a lot of time in a day, especially when you’re out of school and you wake up at the crack of dawn.

  23. Heather June 30, 2010 at 5:09 am #

    A friend of mine says that her vehicle-obsessed son was surprisingly blase about seeing steam trains last year. He was very excited about seeing a normal diesal train. Eventually, they realised that all the TV trains are steam trains, so that’s his ‘normal’ for trains. The diesal trains were new and different to him.

    In other words, Elizabeth is right, the programmers are completely divorced from reality.


  24. Jahn Ghalt June 30, 2010 at 5:31 am #

    I offer a reaction and an anecdote:

    As “tweens” my kids watched what I disparagingly referred to as “Disney Dramas”. I reflexively avoided watching more than 1-2 minutes – mainly because they had laugh tracks – but also because they were just plain bad.

    I told my kids, to no avail, that damn near anything with a laugh track is bad.

    My daughter – now 15-1/2 is something of a film snob (and has made to date three quite competent short films – a drama, a docu-drama, and a straight documentary) about which I approve. There is too much good stuff to be cheated by the ordinary.

    My son (now almost 14) has more, shall we say, “common” tastes.


    Flash back to my own teen years – 1973 or thereabouts – Sonny and Cher reruns in the summer, etc. We had just gotten our 4th TV station – the PBS affiliate, on which I watched Monty Python reruns late at night – sound turned down way way (way) low – so as not to disturb the parental unit.

    We three transgressed. I don;t know what it was, but I remember mom opening the back of the set and removing multiple vacuum tubes. Thus commenced the:

    \\\**** SUMMER OF NO TV ****///////

    No Sonny, No Monty Python, No Cher (THAT really hurt my hormonally-driven viewing habit)

    Soon after school started, Mom restored the TV to working order. It must have been the weekend, since the first thing on the Tube was a football game – I remember how good it was to have TV again.

  25. Party Piper June 30, 2010 at 5:37 am #

    Hold on….

    I loved me some Sesame Street back in the day, and I’ve got a list of shows I love now. I think that too much TV, like too much anything else, can stunt people’s intellectual and social growth, and this applies to adults as much as children. I think that there are a lot of really stupid shows (and commercials) and there are some really smart and engaging shows (is it wrong that I view Ru Paul as my televised therapist?)

    However, I also know someone whose parents were in the “no TV ever because it will warp our little precious’ mind.” Well, precious is now all grown up, and plenty warped (in a good way) and teaching Physics at a prominent university near a major metropolitan area. Sure, he’s done well for himself, but one thing he can’t do? Anytime there’s a TV on, he’s RIVETED to the screen, no matter what it is. Like zone out scary kind of thing.

    So, be careful. Forbidding TV is just like labeling anything else in your home as evil; kids will get it one way or another, and maybe a parent’s job is to be able to teach children how to budget their time between what they want to do and what they have to do. All those little darlings are one day going to go off to college, and they aren’t going to have mommy and daddy standing around telling them when they can watch TV and awarding computer usage credits. TV is a part of our lives, and certainly more and more things are available through a screen… I’ve taken several college classes via the internet.

  26. Karen June 30, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    You could make the same argument about books, yes? Kids in books have amazing adventures, use their imaginations, etc–yet the kid READING the book is lying on her back on the coach with her nose stuck in the book.
    It’s all about balance and parents being smart about how much of anything is too much for their particular kid.

  27. dmd June 30, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    Until recently we avoided *overtly* commercial TV (that is actual commercial breaks) but I did allow Disney and PBS (which have more subtle commercials). However, occasionally, our son would see commercials if we were watching something (rare while he is awake) or on a lazy Saturday when we allowed Sat. morn. programming. From his first commercial, I told him “All they want is your money. It probably doesn’t work like that. It might not even work at all.” I said some variation on that every single time a commercial came on. Now, my son has branched out to Nikoloedeon (HATE IT, but I allow him some choice as a growing child) and he parrots it back to me – they just want your money. That said, he still wants the new Lego Harry Potter set. So there’s just no avoiding the commercialism, although I hope that at least I’ve implanted a little default reaction.

    ON ANOTHER NOTE; Way to go Abby Sunderland, 16 yo who tried to sail the world. Didn’t make it, but she showed that teenagers are responsible and can do big things! Her parents are being beaten up in the media. Such a shame.

  28. pentamom June 30, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    The issue or whether and how much TV is good for kids is interesting, but it isn’t really the point here. You could make the same point with many popular children’s books — it’s fashionable to let kids read about, or watch, kids living exciting, semi-independent lives, but people are horror-struck at the idea that kids might actually DO that. And that’s largely because the same media outlets that show Dora exploring and what have you, are part of corporate media families that wants to make us believe that John Walsh is a typical dad and that CSI is accurate not only in how it portrays the events surrounding sensational crimes, but how it portrays sensational crime’s place in normal life. Deep down, we all want our kids to be Dora and Trixie Belden and the Boxcar Children and whoever (and I think this is true of helicopter parents as well, but they add an “if only the world weren’t so dangerous” onto the thought), but we get sucked into the version of reality offered by Greta and Nancy and whoever, and that, folks, is because people are SELLING something, and we’re buying.

  29. pentamom June 30, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    BTW, when I say they “want to make us believe” that, I’m not claiming it’s some kind of conspiracy — I just mean that if they sell those ideas to us, we keep buying their product, so they do have an interest in promoting a TV-based worldview.

  30. Penni Russon June 30, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    This is from my master’s thesis (on melancholy and children’s literature):

    Recently fairies have once again taken firm hold of popular culture in a somewhat impoverished form. No longer relegated to the bottom of the garden, fairylands pop up in shopping centres. The fairy as a commodity is Victorian in its production of values, attached to heightened femininity and an idea of childhood as a time of wonder and innocence (in other words, ripe for exploitation). Melancholy is one of the most important driving forces in a commodity culture, which creates a sense of lack and then attempts to fill it with ‘things’:
    “Using pleasure as its ultimate weapon, the corporate children’s consumer culture…commodifies cultural objects and turns them into things to purchase rather than objects to contemplate.” ( Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe L. Kincheloe, eds. Kinderculture: the Corporate Construction of Childhood Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004. 11.)
    Once again the adult world has distilled the image of the fairy, eliminating the threatening, violent, overtly sexual and ultimately the melancholy elements and leaving only what is clean, safe, and respectable, supporting the dominant values of the consumer culture. Fairies still represent the child imagination, but it is an imagination presided over and cleaned up by the adult gatekeepers, deprived of its subversive power (which rather recalls the image of Mrs Darling tidying up her children’s minds). Tinker Bell has recently been repackaged by Disney and will appear in her own feature film next year; from the trailer ( viewed on December 14, 2007) we learn that it is no longer children’s imaginations that give fairies their vitality*, but rather that fairies (and presumably the corporate culture they represent) give children their imaginations. The message is that it is the adult world that constructs and gives meaning to the child’s imagination.

    *Referring to the scene in the book and play of Peter Pan – clap your hands if you believe in fairies – in which the childrens belief and healthy imaginative lives are essential for characters to come alive.

  31. Penni Russon June 30, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    Also, we don’t watch TV but only DVDs (mostly ones we get from the library). This isn’t so much about controlling content (they still watch crappy Disney, including Tinkerbell, which I watched 15 minutes of and felt like I was slowly scooping my brain out with a teaspoon). It’s more about time. When I was a kid, there were two channels in Tasmania, one commercial and the public national broadcaster (govt owned, no ads). Now in Australia, with digital television (let alone if you have pay TV) there is constant children’s programming available, always something new on, and every single show is attached to a massive franchise. It’s frankly exhausting. As a work at home mum (who for a long time had no childcare) the television is a constant temptation to me – of course life with a busy toddler was easier in those moments where they were vegging out in front of the teev. So the restrictions we place on tv are more about controlling my own impulses. My kids are 5 and 7 now and often choose not to watch television even when the option is available to them.

    I do think books are more empowering. They promote intellectual development, they can be read up a tree whilst camping, they are a bubble of personal space and the imagination is an important factor in making books work (I don’t really think that television requires the same engagement, though I do think it’s possible to engage critically and imaginatively with television). I think a book is an intimate conversation between two people (with the occasional interjection from the editor), whereas a television show is by nature mass-produced. The book as object of course is mass-produced but the content isn’t – I can tell you from experience that most authors are not provided with focus groups or a list of agendas to insert in their work.

  32. farrarwilliams June 30, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Putting aside the issue of whether the TV media is rotting our kids’ brains or not for a moment (which is too big a can of worms for me to touch), I just wanted to point out that it isn’t just the stories on TV for kids that show kids as adventurous and active. Kids in books currently being written for children are similarly free range. I think it’s still a part of the narrative for children in general. I have a number of ideas about why, but most blatantly, I can’t imagine the writers coming up with interesting plots for movies, TV or books about children who aren’t allowed to go out.

  33. Kelly June 30, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    We just take the easy way out and don’t have a television set. Oh and I let my kids actually have adventures. It mostly works out – except those meddlin’ adults! (Scooby Doo reference) who would seek for me to keep the kids chained up inside. On their butts. Watching TV.

    Oh, and I find it interesting if Lenore so much as mentions that television watching might have negative effects people rush in to defend it as if she said something much more dire. Maybe if I watched TV I’d know why people are so desparate to defend it at all costs, even if an editorial isn’t particularly attacking the entire institution?

    I think if anyone is NOT judging parents personally for letting their kids watch TV, it’s Lenore.

  34. S Henstrand June 30, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    One earlier comment brought up talking with the kids watching TV about the programming and the merchandising, helping them become educated consumers. That is the point, being a better consumer. How about the kids being producers? I do have to bring up one particular show I recently saw with my friend and his young child (mine being adults) titled Dora the Explorer. I was taken aback by the constant reference to computers in the arrow clicking choices. My friend told me that this leads right into the website… Wow. Immersing the kids in digital ephemera at the expense of place.

  35. Penni Russon June 30, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    @farrarwilliams Very true. Though it’s interesting if you think about it how many classic narratives take place in “safe”, parent guarded spaces (Tom’s Midnight Garden, The first Narnia book, where everything is actually located in a wardrobe, and orphans are definitely over-represented in children’s literature). I just read 58 unpublished novels for 8-11 year olds and one of the recurring storylines these days is kids getting sucked into a computer game (and the “safe” risks becoming “real”, though like game narratives these novels are usually static, and there is still a sense that they are moving their way through a pre-written game, so the characters don’t actually have any agency). These novels aren’t necessarily getting published, but they are certainly being produced on a large scale.
    I do find it increasingly hard as a children’s/YA author getting rid of the parents in a way that is convincing for a contemporary audience. When my 16 year old girl character ran away my American editor said ‘why doesn’t her mother call the police?’ This girl also has access to a dark and powerful magic – that part’s believable but not that her mother would wait a day or two to see if her fairly canny and generally responsible daughter might come home on her own.
    In the good old days children were sent to convalesce with distracted, neglectful aunts, or their parents went to Europe on holidays leaving their children behind, or went out to dinner leaving their children with a dog in charge.

  36. BrooklynShoeBabe June 30, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    My children watch a disgusting amount of television, and most of the time I don’t mind because my husband and I do make sure that they have lives outside of the house and from in front of the television. We read books to them every night. They’re taking swimming lessons and dance classes. We also go to the zoo and the park as the whether allows. My daughters have a vivid imagination and most of their imaginative play includes the names of their friends not television characters.

    Television is okay provided that there is a balance, and that the parents are the authority on what is being watched.

  37. bmj2k (Barry) June 30, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    Thanks for using my comment Lenore!

    @Karen: The book arguement only goes so far. Yes, the kids are indoors and not physically active, but the mind is much more stimulated. Television provides all you need for a program, but a good story requires the mind to fill in the blanks- how do the characters sound? What do they look like? The mind provides the sounds, the pictures, the entire imagination is engaged. That is why there is “active reading” but no such thing as “active television viewing.” Your point about balance, however, is certainly true.

    @ Kelly (and others): Not having a TV set is not the way to go. Like it or not, television is part of our shared culture and some understanding of it is necessary to join in the common community. Do your kids have to know every contestant (or even any) on American Idol? No, but they should be aware of what the show is since it is such a big part of our landscape.

    @Sky: You’ve hit it on the head about parents turning TV off and paying attention to what kids watch. The problem falls with the parents who don’t, who abdicate their responsibilities and let the TV be the babysitter.

  38. Donna June 30, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    I actually find banning TV kinda anti-free range. Free range to me involves going against this need of parents to provide this perfect sanitized world for the sensitive little snowflakes living in their houses. Nothing remotely negative should enter their lives. Can’t go outside because you might get kidnapped. Can’t keep score because Snowflake might get her feelings hurt. Mom and dad can’t drink wine because Snowflake will see them. Can’t watch tv because you may see a commercial and not achieve your fullest potential seems to fit in there just fine.

    TV has now been around for a few generations. People weaned on tv from our generation and the generation before managed to achieve healthy, happy lives – academically, socially and emotionally.

    I do understand that our TV watching was somewhat naturally limited – there were only a couple channels, no VCR let alone DVR – and I have no problem with the idea of limiting the time that children spend in front of the TV to get them out doing other things. But this whole out ban on TV because it’s bad seems to smack directly in the face of free-rangeness. And I’m not a big TV watcher. We go many days without turning the thing on but if the kid asks to watch Dora, watching Dora for a half an hour is not going to turn her brain to mush and it’s mighty worst-case scenario for you to believe that it does.

  39. Kelly June 30, 2010 at 10:43 am #

    I find it profoundly over the top people here would tell me (or others) we “should” own a television set or that not owning one is anti-free range. Eschewing a TV set in the home does not translate to X, Y, or Z about how “excluded” my children and myself are from pop culture or larger culture; not owning a TV means nothing whatsoever about how “sanitized” or protective parents or carers are either.

    I grew up without a television set and I could write volumes on why I am grateful for this. While growing up and through today I participate in pop culture and my larger culture quite a bit – yes I know what American Idol is even though I have not watched it (there’s this little thing called the inter-netz I’ve heard about…). When I grew up I was free to watch television in my friends’ homes or lots of other places TV pops up (in hotel rooms or at the Y or even in school). My kids see television in similar ways and I am fine with this. But to say we “should” have one in our home is bunk.

    Please do not confound those of us who don’t have a TV set with those who ban their children EVER from viewing a television program – or make the nasty Snowflake comments. For the love of Pete.

  40. Kelly June 30, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    And apologies for the derail on the TV subject, Lenore! I shouldn’t have taken the bait. 🙂

  41. Uly June 30, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    Actually, Barry – not to be the contrarian here (and I actually prevent my nieces from watching much, as I find it has detrimental effects on the older one’s behavior and, in general, I like to have the same rules for both of them when possible), but I’m sure I read an article a year or so back about how, as stories on TV are growing more and more complex and as arc-based series are becoming more and more popular, TV watching is actually requiring more and more effort.

    As far as cultural awareness goes, I think you can get that without actually *having* a TV if you don’t want one.

    Now, before people jump off half-cocked, I said “if you don’t want one”. If you, as an individual, don’t think your family would benefit from a TV – don’t have one! You should absolutely not have something in your house you don’t want.

    If you think TV is fun, and it’s worth it for a few programs, you enjoy watching TV with your family – get one!

    (One thing I really can’t stand, tangent here, is people who act like other people’s choices or statements are judgments. If I say my nieces watch little TV (true), this isn’t because I’m going “You’re a bad parent!” I really don’t care, and neither do I care to hear a 20 minute argument about why you really really REALLY made the choice to let them watch a LITTLE bit of TV now and again. If you’re not happy with your choice, make a new one, but whatever you do, don’t talk to ME about it! Sheesh!)

  42. Kelly June 30, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    Perfectly-said IMO.

  43. Alanna June 30, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    Your recent post made me think of the short story by Ray Bradbury, “The Pedestrian.” Of course, now we don’t have to read it because we can watch it on

  44. bmj2k June 30, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    @Uly: Well, I never explicitly said you should own a TV. I guess it was implied though. At any rate, I think we agree that, if you watch it or not, a brief understanding of what’s happening on TV is a good thing. (BTW- I hope you don’t think I’m one of those people who think you’re a bad parent. Farthest thing from my mind.)
    As for what you say about shows with arcs, that is true, but they still don’t engage the mind in quite the same way as a book. Some shows are getting better and do require more effort, and that’s good, but TV is still in many ways dominated by reality shows, and that isn’t good. At any rate, many of those arc shows (like the Gates, Happy Town, etc, air at ten and get an older demographic.)

    @Kelly: Yor point is well-taken, but the “inter-netz,” like TV, is only as good as what you take from it.

    To all: You are the parents of your kids. No matter what I or anyone else say, you have the last word.

  45. Uly June 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Unfortunately for you (and everybody else on the internet) some of these arguments are so frequent and common that I’ve been in them a dozen and a half times. Even if nobody yet has said something over-the-top, I’ve long since decided it’s best to cover my bases before they do. (Of course, then I have to explain and apologize. There has GOT to be a better way that not only doesn’t trigger hysteria all around but ALSO doesn’t make me sound like a twit. I haven’t found it yet. Clearly.)

    (For the record I’m not a good or a bad parent. I hope I’m a good aunt/babysitter, but parent, I’m not one at all. I try to make this clear because otherwise when people find out they give me this long talk about how OMG they thought I was the mom! and it wasn’t very interesting the first time.)

    As far as TV, I gotta be honest with you… sometimes I just like stirring the pot. As my mother always says, when two people are talking one of them HAS to take the other side or you don’t have a conversation! Two people saying the same things is boring 😛 I’m not entirely convinced about the arc argument myself, but I couldn’t resist throwing it in there. (For that matter though, since I’m doing this, did you know back in the early days of print some people were opposed to SPACES? They thought if you didn’t have to think about where the wordbreaks where when reading, you weren’t working hard enough and OMG UR BRANE WULD ROT! Or so I’ve heard, anyway. I don’t read with the goal of enlightening myself, learning something, or engaging my mind. I read because it’s fun, and I look upon arguments that it makes me smarter with… well, it just doesn’t strike me as the *point*, whether it’s true or not! It’s like saying that chocolate is good for your heart, or whatever it is. Who cares? Chocolate is good for your taste buds! But now I’m wildly off any semblance of a topic. Whoops. I better get to bed.)

  46. Jen Connelly June 30, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    When I first started following this site I often wondered what all the helicopter moms thought of shows like Dora where she’s off running around the jungle, flying in balloons and dealing with grumpy old trolls under bridges. How neglectful of her mother! Yet they all seem to like Dora.
    They hate Max & Ruby, though, where they show a girl who takes the initiative to keep her little brother in line (and, boy, is he a troublemaker). All I hear about that show is, “where are their parents.” Cracks me up.

    My kids watch a lot of TV. Probably more than they should. In the winter there isn’t much else to do so after homework the TV comes on and they watch until bedtime. Whatever keeps them quiet and out of my hair.
    In the summer they spend more time outside.
    They are usually up WAY before I am and once I’m up I give them an hour and if they are on my nerves the TV goes off and they go outside right then. Otherwise they might watch until lunch time. Depends on my mood and their behavior. Some days I make them turn it off as soon as I get up (8am, usually) and it doesn’t come back on all day.
    As much as I love TV, personally (it’s my escape from reality and I write fanfiction to extend that, lol) I’ve noticed they have lost their ability to use their imaginations. I watch a show and then imagine more scenarios for the characters and might even write them out. My kids just stare at the screen. ugh. So I’ve been trying to change that.

    But I do love that the kids on their shows are so independent and self-reliant.

  47. Donna June 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    I don’t have think not having a TV if you simply don’t like TV is not free range. What I’ve read is repeated watching any TV turns your kids to fat, couch potatoes and stunts them emotionally, socially and intellectually. And I do find that helicopter parenting. Sorry. My opinion.

    I agree with Uly that there is a bit much of people expressing opinions and that being taken as saying that people who don’t agree are bad parents. My personal opinion is that the notion that any TV whatsoever turns your kids to fat, couch potatoes that are stunted emotionally, socially and intellectually is the same worst-case scenario thinking that is at the basis of the helicopter parenting trend. But that is my opinion. I don’t think you are a bad parent if you disagree. You are making choices that I would never make for my child but I don’t really care what you do with your children. I am simply stating an opinion on the matter because I do have one.

    Nor am I justifying letting my child watch 20 minutes of TV because I am unhappy with my choice. I’m perfectly happy with my choice. In fact, my kid doesn’t particularly like TV. I wish she’d watch more on rainy weekends. I enjoyed TV as a child and am more than willing to let her enjoy it, as part of a well balanced life that includes playing outside, imaginary play, interacting with people, reading, studying, etc.

  48. Penni Russon June 30, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Complex story arcs don’t really happen that often in kids’ tv. And the ones that happen in adult shows are often disappointing (I am thinking Lost, where there is so little cohesion and stories are driven by audience feedback, rather than an overall narrative vision). I am a big Buffy fan though. Joss Whedon gives good arc.

  49. Kim J. June 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    I think the point that Donna is making is that banning TV so that little Precious can have the perfect environment is not free range—it reminds me of parents keeping their kids indoors because of all the terrible dangers which are outdoors. Whether or not you have a TV is not the question, the attitude is the question.

    I do let my kids watch TV, and occasionally I feel bad about it. I do enjoy when I turn off the TV and the kids say, “Now let’s pretend that we are super small,” or whatever the show was about. I could have been reading to them about Gulliver’s Travels, but learning from TV is more likely to happen.

  50. Kurt Kemmerer June 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Donna: That’s very much where we’re at in our home. The truth is that we just don’t have time to watch TV. I really struggle to figure out how people find the time for it! 🙂

  51. Cookiemonsta June 30, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    Gee, I love being the odd man out. I will freely and openly admit that most of the time in my house the TV is on. Not to say we are always watching it, but it’s pretty much constantly in the background. I like the noise, the easy background filler. With TV when you aren’t watching it, commercials and programmes can slip into each other and you don’t really notice. I put the radio on from time to time, but when they start in with long monologues or advertisements it’s a harsh jump to the ears from easy listening tunes. I don’t have an ipod, or a big enough mix of CDs and listening to the same ones over and over gets monotonous. I don’t expect much from TV and it delivers. My kids watch a bit here and there. No kids shows until things that have to be done are, ie homework, chores. Kids all do sports (they can – even in Winter!! see rugby, netball, hockey etc). They all happily play, read, make up games, songs etc even in the presence of the beast in the corner.

  52. spacefall June 30, 2010 at 11:49 pm #

    When I was a kid, one of the popular cartoons at the time (I think it might have been Doug but I can’t quite remember) frequently featured the central group of friends hanging out at a malt-shop kind of place. About half the kids in my class thought this was the. coolest. thing. ever. Hanging out! After school! On their own! Without their parents knowing exactly where they were! The other half actually *did* things like that, and so were less impressed by it on telly (though most still watched the show.)

    On the TV IS EVIL // TV IS NOT EVIL argument, I think TV itself is not the problem — it’s how you watch (and learn to watch) it. Like one of the commenters upthread, my parents always encouraged me to think about what was going on and what might happen, about character motivations and histories, and so on, and taught me to take note of unfamiliar vocabulary and new information. I like to brag that even though I used to watch All in the Family (so not proud) I learned the word psychosomatic there, at age 11, and could easily use it in several sentences. I also used to watch a lot of old telly (my favourite VHS was a show from the 1950s called Watch With Mother, and I’m an old-school Doctor Who fan to this day) which I think has given me a greater appreciation of past generations and recent history. And all that thinking about motivation and plot lines and so fourth? Well, I like to think I’m a pretty good writer these days (though I am prone to devoting too much time to fanfiction).

    A parent seduced by TV but worried about brainrot or couch potatoitis might do well to try this strategy. But of course, being a sensible parent means deciding what’s best for *your* kids, so I guess there is no point in arguing. 🙂

  53. K July 1, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    “People weaned on tv from our generation and the generation before managed to achieve healthy, happy lives – academically, socially and emotionally. ”

    True. But, when I was young, there were three stations (unless it was raining, then we got only two). And tv had limited choices, very limited content (only news from 6-7). And turned off promptly at 11 (Star-spangled banner, then snow for the night).

    Choices get more complex and more varied in content. Screens get more pervasive (not just one in the living room, several per house, streaming in doctor’s offices, waiting rooms, buses, restaurants, train stations, car repair shops, on your mobile devices).

    It is harder and harder to actually get away from screen time when you want to. Can we have “no-screen zones” like the no-smoking zones?

  54. MommyMitzi July 1, 2010 at 2:59 am #

    Let’s get back to what the blogger said about TV showing kids having great adventures. I’ve noticed this a lot, whether it’s a movie, TV, or books. Kids have AMAZING freedom in most of these stories–they walk to school, they go into haunted houses, they explore caves, they catch criminals, they make their own meals and wash their own clothes (admittedly, usually making an unholy mess in the process, but I digress), with nary an adult in sight. Yay for media aimed at kids! Boo at media aimed at parents (“scary things to be afraid of as parents, coming up on the 11:00 news”).

    Whether you let your kids watch TV or not isn’t the point as much as celebrating these stories of kids and adventure!

  55. Veroniqu July 1, 2010 at 2:59 am #

    I agree with Donna completely. “My personal opinion is that the notion that any TV whatsoever turns your kids to fat, couch potatoes that are stunted emotionally, socially and intellectually is the same worst-case scenario thinking that is at the basis of the helicopter parenting trend.” EXACTLY

    Its very surprising to see this “Anti-Anti” site saying TV is SOOO bad and we need to protect our kids from the dangers of CARRRRTOOOOONS (OH NO’Z!!) or as Lenore says “crack”. Come on. Seriously?

    Use common sense people. Every child is different and moderation is key. My son’s favorite things to do is to play outside in the dirt and discover bugs….but he’s also a big fan of Diego.

    : P

  56. Lara July 1, 2010 at 4:00 am #

    As one of my favorite saying is: If there is a lake in your backyard, the solution is not to cement it in to prevent kids from drowning, it is to teach kids how to swim and be save around water.

    Candy, TV, movies, comics, battery driven toys are all part of childhood. Moderation is key. Teach kids how to use these items in moderation. Kids learn.

  57. Lara July 1, 2010 at 4:02 am #

    And there are a lot of parents here that are by no means better than the so called helicopter parents. They just chose another extreme. As I always say: extremes are bad no matter what.
    Too far East is still West.

  58. MommyMitzi July 1, 2010 at 6:28 am #

    Veroniqu and Lara–Exactly! I totally agree. And that’s how I parent. Moderation for most thing. (I type this as my kids are watching Adventure Camp and eating Cheetos on this beautiful summer day. But it’s a well-deserved break after a morning of creative play inside and out, swim lessons, and lots of healthy food and before we had out to do a lemonade stand and soccer camp!)

  59. bmj2k July 1, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    @Uly: after reading your last post, (and understanding your unspoken ground rules), you are the type of person I love to be in a forum with because we realize that there is nothing personal in playing Devil’s Advocate.

    @Penni: I like Whedon, but I give J. Michael Straczynski a ton of credit for bringing arc to the fore in Babylon 5

    @MommyMitzi: I think this thread has had far too much generalization about television. We seem to be lumping together Dora the Explorer, the Bachelorette, and news shows featuring (as I saw yesterday) “Are your neighbors foreign spies? We’ll show you how to find out.” (I swear that is true.)

    As far as the mixed messages, what happens when kids raised on the “kids are adventurers” Disney shows grow up and watch the “kids are delicate china dolls” news programs?

  60. Uly July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Well, you know, BMJ, there actually WAS a Russian spy caught recently.


    What with this and the cat-burglar in the city (yes, really!) it’s like something out of the comics around here lately!

    Also: I less-than-three B5 so much, although perhaps I should never have tried to watch all five seasons in under a month. I started to think that we were living under a repressive government filled with massive orwellian conspiracies. And aliens.

  61. Elizabeth July 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Alleged spies.

    Because, you know, Americans don’t have enough to worry about in Russia. Now it’s tit for frigging tat.

    Re: Story Arcs: Okay, it did get lost at the end but how can you all not mention X-Files???

  62. Gee July 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with this post.

    Children’s tv does want to get children watching. Just like adult tv. But it’s not some sort of conspiracy. It’s just that children’s tv is designed to appeal to children.

    Do the children on adult tv shows generally remind of us real children? Is the parenting realistic? Where are the jobs that take up most of everyone’s life? Or the housekeeping or any other practical chores. We really don’t want to watch super-realistic stories and neither do children. But is this a realistic model for our lives?

    It’s tv. It’s designed to be ideal and entertaining. But it’s not a bad thing for kids to live a little vicariously through characters. What girl doesn’t want to imagine she’s a pop star or a superspy?

    I assure you if an evil overlord starts stalking some student and murdering others at my child’s school, I’ll opt for homeschooling immediately. I’m really not that free range.

  63. Elizabeth July 1, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    I don’t think the post implied it was a grand conspiracy. It just highlights our national obsessions with an innocent, and yet threatened, childhood, and how they are manifested in television programming. It brings out the perversity of it: children are ALWAYS safe (even though they do absolutely ridiculously “dangerous” things) for children, but children are ALWAYS in danger on the 5 o’clock news for adults.

    I don’t think anyone here believes it’s an intentional conspiracy, kwim?

  64. Arwen July 1, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    I like PBS Kids, but it annoys me that this “commercial-free” tv is sponsored by all of the fast food joints. My son recognizes the logos and can name every fast food joint in town. Guess where he learned them?

  65. Heather K July 1, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    My sons watch too much TV – but they have no idea how to watch live TV. We have a TiVo with a huge external storage device attached, so we have 55 saved episodes of Sesame Street and 30 saved episodes of Curious George (which just won a Daytime Emmy!). That’s it. And I am constantly amazed at some of the things my older son (2.5) has learned from watching those shows over and over and over. I think that watching the same episodes really drives home the lessons they are teaching (and frankly, much of what they teach are not things I would have come up with on my own). My son sat down with his crayons and started saying, “Roy G Biv” over and over, trying to pick the right crayons to draw a rainbow. So, yes, they might spend too many hours with the TV on, but I swear they are getting something out of it – and no commercials!

  66. Eika July 3, 2010 at 3:39 am #

    When I was a kid- not long ago, actually; maybe eight or ten years- Nickelodeon had a thing where, during the summer, they wouldn’t show any programs.

    They had commercials about the event all spring, and then, from either 9-5 for a solid week or from about 3-5 every day (depending on the year) if you turned the TV on to their channel it would have a message about how it was activity time, go outside and do something. Combined with the regular commercials of kids playing soccer/baseball/gardening/skateboarding/painting a landscape/making a couch fort (the slogan was ‘Verb: It’s What You Do’) it got us kids outside pretty regularly.

    I don’t know if they still do that. If they don’t, they should.

  67. Bryan July 4, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    I was born in 1961. We had three networks and PBS. When my mom felt I had been in front of the TV for to long she would walk over to it, turn it off and point at the front door and say “OUT!!!”

    And what have been doing for the past 25 years as a career?….

    Working in television.

  68. Jake429 July 4, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Being a sort-of “Free Range Kid” myself (I’m 20 now), I grew up like most kids with a more-than-vivacious appetite for the Tube. Today, I see that more and more children are spending time not just in front of the TV, but also in front of the computer and gaming system. Every kid I knew 10 years ago knew how to play several outdoor games; today, if you are able to tear a kid away from his Xbox360 to ask him about those games, his response will be something like “Oh, is that a Wii game?”

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved the TV when I was young and watched it a lot. However, my mother (God bless her!) realized the importance of an “unplugged” kid. She shooed us outside at every chance she got, and always taught us the importance of life outside of the TV room.

    Kids should be allowed to watch the TV for information, education and entertainment, but do not need to be glued to it. Teach children the importance of living life away from the TV, while still allowing them the (measured) pleasure of entertainment the television offers.

    From an electronics/entertainment salesperson…

  69. Free Watch Glee July 6, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    nice topic guys 😀

  70. Michele July 7, 2010 at 7:03 am #

  71. Library Momma July 7, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    You can find plenty of adventurous, free-range kids in books, too. In fact, many classic children’s books feature very active kids with parents who play very small roles in their children’s lives (I’m thinking of all those Trixie Belden mysteries I read when I was 12; also “My Side of the Mountain,” and even “A Wrinkle in Time.”)

    My six-year-old son never watched network TV until last March, when we were in a motel and had the TV on. My husband was flipping through the channels and came across a Pokemon cartoon. My son had picked up a Pokemon book at the library and recognized the characters, and he’s been obsessed with Pokemon ever since. Ugh.

    We still only let him watch TV three days a week, for two hours at a time. We started limited his TV time (and ours) after reading “The Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” written by Jerry Mander in the late 1970s. But we haven’t given up the TV entirely. Maybe someday?

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