It’s no secret that I’ve been making a career of sorts from trying to balance my love of medieval literature and literature in general with my love of popular culture, particular the television shows created by Joss Whedon. So I think TV is good, right?
Wrong—no more than just because I love to read and teach literature I think “books” are good. Some books are poorly written and a chore to read. Some books are not meant for very young persons. Some books have poisonous content and I wonder why they exist at all, but Milton pretty much explains it all in Areopagitica.
As for TV, without people who can read and write, TV dramas and comedies, even “reality” shows, wouldn’t exist. And the best ones are created and written by people who have read good literature, not by those who have done nothing but watch movies and TV: Joss Whedon, a great lover of Shakespeare; Jane Espenson (MA in linguistics); David Milch, David Simon, David E. Kelley (what’s with all the Davids?); J.J. Abrams, Aaron Sorkin (BFA Musical Theater, playwright); J. Michael Straczynski, Barbara Hall, Glen Gordon Caron.
Nevertheless, a more and more scientific studies are suggesting, TV is not for very young children, especially if we want them to learn to read and use language as skilfully as they should:
[T]he American Academy of Pediatrics discourages television watching before the age of 2, a time when critical development, such as language acquisition, occurs. …
To figure out the TV-language link, Christakis and his colleagues rounded up 329 2-month to 4-year-old children and their parents. The kids wore digital devices on random days each month for up to two years that recorded everything they heard or said for 12 to 16 hours. …
Analyses of the recordings revealed that each hour of additional television exposure was linked with a decrease of 770 words (7 percent) the child heard from an adult during the recording session. Hours of television were also associated with a decrease in the number and length of child vocalizations and the back and forth between the child and an adult (called a conversational turn).
“Some of these reductions are likely due to children being left alone in front of the television screen,” the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, “but others likely reflect situations in which adults, though present, are distracted by the screen and not interacting with their infant in a discernible manner.”
So watching TV—not even Sesame Street or “Baby Einstein” vids—is not helpful for babies’ language development, and it’s probably not helpful for their parents to be watching TV instead of talking to the babies. I guess we could have figured that out, really.
After we’ve grown up, learned to read and think about things, we can have much more fun with Buffy, Babylon 5, and The Wire.