Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Television, computers, and children

Some people wonder whether we are harming our children by letting them watch TV or play computer games while they are toddlers.  Speaking for myself and my four children, I admit all of them have had significant computer time as toddlers, probably 4-6 hours per week.  This is largely because I am a programmer by trade and I spend a lot of time on computers myself.  I even wrote a program that turned the keyboard and mouse into a toy that a toddler could bang on and do no damage to my files.   There was a period of a few years where my youngest would only go to sleep sitting on my lap while I played Robotron.  In spite of this, at our last parent/teacher conferences, my wife and I happily learned that all of our children are doing extremely well both academically and socially. Not just that they get good grades and behaved well, but that they make positive contributions to the classes and have a positive influence on the other children.

Before drawing a conclusion, let me say that my personal feeling is that generic computer entertainment is pretty harmless in low doses.  (I have a different opinion about realistically rendered entertainment.)  But more to the point,  I think it is important to keep video/computer entertainment as a minority entertainment in favor of other more interactive and more mentally challenging activities.  My wife and I have worked very hard at this.  We have a TV, but no cable.  We limit the kid’s TV viewing to about 4-6 hours per week, most of it on weekends, and most of that off of DVD’s we have chosen.  We use a token system for video games, which limits the kids to one hour/day max, but they probably play only 2-3 hours per week anyway.  In the absence of video entertainment, we fill the rest of their time with family and personal activities including music, reading, work, and games.  We read together as a family every night, have dinner and conversation as a family every night, and my wife has done an excellent job making sure she and the kids read together as part of their daily routines (before they were in school).  Not surprisingly, reading has become the favorite pass-time of all our children. 

A lot of attention is given to the bad things that come from what we do to our kids, but honestly, I feel that more bad comes from what we don’t do.  There are powerful, positive things parents can do for their children that have become (or are becoming) marginalized in this society.  These things start with breast feeding and bed sharing and these things continue with parents in the home (especially mom), family time together (working, playing, reading, praying, singing), one-on-one time with mom or dad, husbands and wives respecting each other’s roles, etc.  Some of this may be offensive to a few, but this is just what I have seen for myself, and I make no apologies for it.

So, my (free) advice is this: Don’t worry about the presence of computer time, worry instead about the absence of meaningful parent time and keep the score in your favor while your kids are little and you have full control of their time.  Remember that no success can compensate for failure in the home.