The intro for Sesame Street’s new line of television shows, targeted at 3-5 year olds, features two fluffy red puppets rapping about America’s national parks. The videos talk about nature and wildlife in an attempt to encourage children to turn off the TV to go outside and explore.
The advent of TV shows to discourage TV viewing proves that even TV executives realize America may be spending too much time in front of the tube. Not only does TV viewing continue to grow in the adult population, but TV viewing habits are beginning at increasingly younger ages, and programming is now available for everyone, even newborn babies.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children now spend an average of 7 hours a day on media, more than with any other activity, besides sleeping. Children younger than 2 years old now watch an average of 1 to 2 hours of TV per day, and by the time they are 3 years old, 30 percent of kids have their own personal TV, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).A multi-billion dollar industry has jumped at the target audience of kids age 5 and under.
But most parents report that they feel much better about the hours their children spend in front of the TV if the show is touted as educational. The industry has picked up on this, and has generated millions of programs claiming, like Sesame Street’s new creation, to be good for children’s cognitive development.
Despite the advertising emphasis, many studies have shown that TV has a negative effect on the development of children younger than 2. The AAP strongly discourages any TV viewing for them. For children older than 2, opinions are mixed. With high quality educational programs, studies show some increases in language and social skills, although long periods of time spent with media are linked to cognitive and physical problems.
Teachers use videos occasionally to help illustrate a science lesson, or to help students learn social skills. One elementary school teacher, Janna Malloy, suggests looking for videos with social behaviors kids should copy: “Actually using it to teach a skill and reinforce a skill, that’s great,” she said.