According to Nielsen, the company that tracks television viewership, preschool children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old are watching an average of more than 32 hours of TV each week. This alone should cause a concern-- or at least a raised eyebrow or two, but I’ll get to that later.
The recent buzz has been about Disney’s new preschool channel, Disney Junior, which is scheduled to launch in 2012. According to last week’s article in the New York Times, Disney Junior to Focus on Social Values:
“Mothers want preschool television to be more about teaching children social skills and less about pushing clear academic goals – at least that’s what Disney executives say new internal research indicates. For decades, most preschool programming has been built around an educational curriculum, whether that is numbers and letters (“Sesame Street”), language skills (“Dora”) or even math (Nickelodeon’s “Team Umizoomi”). Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” incorporates problem-solving and counting. The reasons for the educational focus vary, but the approach serves one major goal: reassuring mothers about plunking their wee ones in front of the TV screen.”
This has lead to a quasi turf war among television executives. Not over how much kids should watch (or when – data now suggests that parents are demanding kids programming not only during the morning hours but also during prime time and evening, from 5-11pm) but what kind of programming. According to the Wall Street Journal’s The Turf War for Tots
"Executives at Walt Disney Co., preparing their latest push for this audience, say that some TV for tots favors curriculum over storytelling. They argue that it's sometimes too much work, not enough play. They're offering themselves as an alternative to Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. channel, which emphasizes learning. Disney says that today's parents are ready for a change. In an age of video games and iPads, kids can learn their ABCs anywhere. What's missing are good, old-fashioned stories that kids can repeat to others, pretend to be the characters, and watch again and again."
And yet, a new study released by Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington demonstrates Preschoolers are Watching WAY too much TV. According to the MSNBC summary, "nearly 70 percent of the preschool-age children exceeded recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for limiting screen exposure (including TV, DVDs, computers and video games) to one to two daily hours. The recommendation is based on research linking screen time with adverse effects, including language lags, obesity, possibly aggressive behaviors and decreased academic performance, according to study researcher Dr. Pooja Tandon of the Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington."
There are other options for those of you who aren’t convinced that the Disney/Nickelodeon/PBS Kids food chain is the only option out there. Full disclosure: these are my clients.
Ameba TV is a set top box company out of Winnipeg, Canada with a content library full of thousands commercial-free, educational shows geared towards kids 3-8. Parents control the content; kids get a customized remote. Ameba has plans to update their site to include a subscription-based streaming service. Soon, you will also be able to subscribe to Ameba via Roku, a digital media player.
The Mother Company, out of Los Angeles, is producing a series of DVDs based on social and emotional learning, with a gentle, stylish approach (think Mister Rogers, only the shows are lead by a delightful creative-inspiring host named Ruby). The company is run by a group of "mamas on a mission" who are driven by a passion to redefine screen time.
Dr. Tandon of Seattle Children's also offers tips for limiting screen time:
* Use DVDs or on-demand television, because when the show is over, it's over. "The problem with television is it keeps going," Tandon said. These media also eliminate advertisements, which tend to promote unhealthy foods, she added.
* Set rules for screen time early in children's lives.
* Turn off the TV during meal times.
* Take TVs out of bedrooms. (Tandon mentioned research suggesting a certain percentage of preschoolers have TVs in their rooms.)
* Watch television with kids, and discuss the shows and the messages put forth.
As we live in an increasingly media rich world, parents should be mindful of what their kids are watching, how much and when. How do you limit screen time in your home?