American parents punish kids by making them watch TV

little girls using iPads
CC BY 2.0 Mikael Wiman

Tablets are now the screen of choice for most young kids in the United States -- and parents seem to have forgotten what constitutes a withdrawal of privileges.

Tablets have trumped TVs as the screen of choice for most young kids in the United States – so much so that watching TV is now considered punishment when the tablet has been taken away.

Eight hundred parents and kids between the ages of 2 and 12 were interviewed for a study conducted by Miner & Co. The results reveal a disturbing obsession with tablets:

  • 58% of kids have their own tablet
  • 57% of parents say their kids prefer watching content on handheld devices than on TV
  • 56% of parents say it’s not unusual for kids to be “watching different content on different devices at the same time.”
  • 41% of parents say their child would choose the tablet over dessert, while only 33% would have dessert

    The problem isn’t so much that kids are watching content on tablets as it is the apparent lack of parental oversight and control over how much and what exactly the kids are watching. Screen time is a reality in this day and age, and can be very helpful when busy parents need to get things done, but that doesn’t mean it should be a limitless free-for-all. Allowing it to be such is downright irresponsible on behalf of parents.

    When discussing this with a friend of mine who’s a kindergarten teacher, she cited several examples of kids watching educational YouTube videos in class when inappropriate ads have popped up in the middle of otherwise harmless content. These are not the kinds of things young children should be seeing, regardless of how quickly an adult shuts it down, and it acts as a reminder that adults have less control than they like to think when a young child has a tablet in their hands.

    In a video about the study, a mother gestures at her two young sons, whose eyes are glued to the tablet screen. Gangnam Style is playing in the background. “I would prefer that I had seen this prior to them seeing it,” she says, then shrugs it off as if it say, “The damage is already done; it doesn’t matter.”

    Another mother asks her son, who’s no older than four, “Have you ever put [the tablet] down when I haven’t asked you to?” He answers with a smirk, “Yes – and then I switched to my computer!”

    Many parents and educators act as if excessive technology use among children is harmless, even beneficial at times, but there is more evidence out there showing that it can actually impair child development. It could be aggravating many of the emotional and behavioral issues that plague North American children nowadays.

    And yet, despite this, “The big punishment is our house is actually being forced to watch TV,” says one father. Ad Age’s Anthony Crupi puts it well:

    “That these parents simply don't restrict their kids' access to video altogether when they misbehave suggests that they're raising a generation of spoiled content junkies, but that's another story.”

    Then there’s the obvious question of what these young children could be doing if they weren’t glued to a screen. What are they missing out on, with all those hours spent watching videos on repeat? What games, forts, jokes, books, friendships, and exploration would happen if the tablet weren’t there? And for those parents who do value a childhood filled with those kinds of memories, why aren’t they taking the necessary steps either to limit or eliminate time spent on the tablet to encourage such activities? Who’s the real parent here?

    The study paints a dismal picture for future generations of young people, who are being raised with such questionable definitions of what constitutes punishment; who are having their innocence eroded so early in life by unlimited access to the Internet; whose instinctive creativity is being rendered useless by the passive entertainment they have constantly at their fingertips; and who will accumulate a childhood’s worth of video-watching under their belts, rather than real-life memories and experiences. I do feel sorry for them.

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