More than half of American babies watch television for about two hours a day. One third of babies have televisions in their bedrooms. Babies. Those under two years of age. What little I know of human development, I’m guessing they are not using the remote. This suggests that an adult is turning on the television for the baby. I have so many questions I hardly know where to start.
I think I understand the concept of putting a baby down in front of a television. It has to do with giving the adult a reprieve, yes? May I suggest a moratorium on the demonization of the playpen. You remember the playpen? It is a box filled with toys, books, and cuddly things that kept tykes safe. It was how we controlled their environment, versus gating and locking our environment. Babies could happily entertain themselves while floors got cleaned or adults took showers. Now, if my presumption is accurate, that television is being used in lieu of a playpen, I have to ask; what show is being watched? Does it matter? Is it just the sound that is pacifying the babe? If so, how about music and a busybox? Forget the quality of television for a moment. Can anything be gained, developmentally, from staring at a screen? (That is not a rhetorical question.)
The nursery television leaves me a bit more confused. What in the world is going on there? Is the baby being left alone with the television on? To what end?
Before you think I am anti-media or (gasp) anti-television, let me assure you I am most certainly not. At 14, I ecstatically received a hulking 35 inch wood-framed black and white television set. Painted yellow. That only got channel 7, which was fine as this was during ABC’s heyday. For my 16th birthday my wishes were granted with my very own portable television, which received all seven channels! I brought it with me to college. I love t.v. It’s one of my best friends.
What I don’t love is blanket social inequities. According to the Kaiser Foundation, in families with incomes under $30,000, 64% of children younger than 8 had televisions in their rooms. In families with incomes above $75,000. the number drops to 20%. I doubt 100% of the blame shouldn’t be placed upon the importing of cheap electronic goods. It certainly doesn’t help that a television is no longer a luxury item. But perhaps something larger is at play. Even back when televisions were far too dear for the middle-class, Muffy and Biff were not squired away in their nursery watching television.
While I shy from being an alarmist, I truly suspect that there is something a tad sinister in play. “Progress” has brought us inexpensive food-like substitutes, flavored “drink” and access to electronic noise. There is a school of thought that maintains that the plethora of liquor stores, cigarette ads and cheap goods in low-income neighborhoods is part of a scheme to quell the underclass. Television is a very effective pacifier.