Originally created 08/05/99

Pediatricians: children should watch less TV



CHICAGO -- Children under 2 shouldn't watch television at all, not even "Barney" or "Sesame Street," the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

And older children should not be allowed to have televisions or computers in their bedrooms, the 55,000-member academy said in a report in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The academy said research shows direct interaction with parents and other caregivers is necessary for babies' and toddlers' healthy brain growth and the development of social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Watching television may interfere with that interaction, the report said.

TV viewing also can affect the physical health of young people, the academy said, and pediatricians should take a "media history" of patients to go along with the traditional medical history.

The medical organization is giving its members a questionnaire for young patients, asking about their time spent on movies, computer games and the Internet. The pediatrician could then counsel parents about areas of concern, the report said.

"The importance is to get the message out to people that TV and media consumption has significant health effects on children," said Dr. Miriam Baron, chairwoman of the academy's committee on public education, who helped write the study. She suggested children be encouraged to play outside, read books or work with puzzles or games.

And while tots under 2 shouldn't be watching TV, she added, "If it's a 3-year-old and `Sesame Street' is on and parents want that half-hour of peace, there's nothing wrong with that."

A spokesman for PBS, which recently announced a $40 million investment to create six animated programs for pre-schoolers, said he didn't believe broadcasters and pediatricians were at odds over the issue.

PBS encourages youngsters to watch TV with their parents, to be selective in their viewing and to seek out other activities -- like reading books -- that reinforce what they see on television, said spokesman Harry Forbes.

However, the U.S. marketer of "Teletubbies," which is specifically geared to youngsters under 2, took offense.

The report is "a bunch of malarkey" because it doesn't take into account how parents raise their children, said marketer Kenn Viselman.

More than 1,000 studies have concluded that exposure to media violence can increase the risk of aggressive behavior in some children and adolescents, the academy said.

The academy also pointed to the high sexual content of television shows, the glamorization of tobacco and alcohol use, and the tendency of people who watch a lot of television to be overweight.

The academy noted that the average American child spends 21 hours a week watching television. It said that demonstrates the need for media education programs in schools that could teach children to look at the messages they get from the media with more critical eyes.

Maker of children's TV shows dispute pediatricians' recommendations

NEW YORK -- Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po have something to say to pediatricians: Back off, docs.

The distributor of "Teletubbies," the only television show aimed at children younger than 2, says the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice to keep those youngsters away from the tube is unrealistic for today's parents.

"It's a bunch of malarkey," said Kenn Viselman, president of the itsy bitsy Entertainment Co., which distributes the British series on PBS stations.

The academy said research shows babies need direct interaction with parents and other caregivers for healthy brain growth. Watching TV may also interfere with interaction that helps develop their social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Pediatricians should advise parents to keep children's rooms "electronic media-free," the academy said in a report published in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

During routine visits, doctors should begin asking how children of all ages use TV, videos and computers, the report said. It even urged pediatricians to set an example by turning off the television in their waiting rooms.

"I don't think this takes into account the way parents raise their children anymore," Viselman said. "Parents use TV in three ways -- as an educator, a treat and a baby sitter. That's not going to change, and this report is not going to change it."

"Teletubbies," which premiered last year in the United States, features four colorful characters with a TV set implanted in their stomachs. They use the cooing voices that toddlers are used to hearing from adults and constantly ask questions designed to pique the curiosity of young viewers.

Viselman said there's nothing wrong with shows like "Teletubbies" and educational programs. Parents should instead avoid letting their kids watch "The Jerry Springer Show," he said.

But an expert in children's TV said even "Teletubbies" creates problems, claiming that PBS gave some parents the false feeling that their children would be missing something important if they didn't watch.

"It's preposterous to put children under 2 in front of the TV," said Peggy Charren of Action For Children's Television, a group that lobbies for quality programming for kids. "You should wait as long as possible, because once they get into it, it's awfully hard to turn it off."

Brown Johnson, a senior vice president at Nickelodeon, said the academy's report "very consistent with what we're trying to do. The cable network has programming aimed at children aged 2-5, but nothing for toddlers.

That's partly because research shows that most children need to be at least 2 to follow stories on television.

Nielsen Media Research, which measures TV viewing, also doesn't include children under age 2 in its research. So there's no financial incentive for advertiser-supported networks to reach this audience.

"Any message that gets parents to spend more face time with their kids, especially when they're babies, is a wonderful thing," Ms. Johnson said. "An electronic device can never take the place of a human being."