Founder / Editor


Associate Editor


Assistant Editor











'Secondhand TV' Bad for Kids? So Is Firsthand Exposure to Stupid TV Studies
October 24, 2011  | By David Bianculli


You heard it here secondhand:

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a warning that "secondhand TV" -- the casual exposure to television, when being watched by other, older viewers -- can harm the development of children under age 2. To which I say, well, that's not the stupidest thing any organization has said about television. But it does make the semifinals...

The basic concept, admittedly, does contain a kernel of common sense. When a TV is on in the background, it can serve as a distraction, both to kids at play and to parents and caregivers interacting with them. The American Academy of Pediatrics is saying, essentially, that when an adult is watching television as well as a young child, the multi-tasking robs the child of more intense, instructive and loving one-on-one interaction.

To summarize: People who pay full attention to kids are better for them, and to them, than ones who are watching TV at the same time. As Norm Macdonald used to say on Saturday Night Live before quoting something painfully obvious on Weekend Update, "Ripped from the pages of Duh magazine!"


Too much "secondhand TV," the study says, hurts the language development of small children. But firsthand TV, if it's Sesame Street, helps. So to me, all this buzz about "secondhand TV" is so much secondhand smoke.

In 1979, when I was a TV critic in Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Orthodontic Society went so far as to blame television for crooked teeth. "When a child watches TV," the organization insisted, "he often leans on one hand, pushing in on his teeth. Changing that habit early on can save a bill for braces later on."

One solution, I wrote at the time, is to have the child watch less television. Another, equally effective solution, I added, is to allow the child to watch just as much TV as before, but to switch hands half the time.

I have the same basic reaction to "secondhand TV." When you're raising a kid, it's what's in the foreground, not in the background, that really matters.




Eileen said:

Well said. There are just too many studies sometimes. I'm sure your son, Mark, and I know my son were not harmed by early exposure to tv. I think shows like Sesame Street put kids on the right path to learning. By rote, of course. But it gave them the fundamentals of numbers, letters, speech patterns that would last from toddler to kindergarten. Shows like Reading Rainbow and the Electric Company just guided them as they grew. That's not to say there wasn't plenty of "Two Stupid Dogs" viewed in my home, but the majority of kiddie viewing was pretty educational.

It reminds me of those parents who outlaw tv in their home. Yet their kids are the ones who can't wait to go visit their friends after school -- to watch tv.

Of course there should be limits, but given a parent's involvement, tv can be a wonderful instructive tool. And the key here would be "parent's involvement".

As my sainted mother would say, "All things in moderation".

So, until the next study...

Comment posted on October 25, 2011 11:06 AM

Eileen said:

Oh, and just to add to my original comments. To all you tv for kids naysayers out there, my son graduated Summa Cum Laude/Phi Beta Kappa. And that's my Personal Study on Television for Kids.

[That pretty much Summas it all up, right? Good for you... and your son. -- DB]

Comment posted on October 25, 2011 12:34 PM
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 Name (required)
 Email (required) (will not be published)
Type in the verification word shown on the image.