Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

Summary: The American Association of Pediatrics says TV is not a good thing for your two-year-old.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

Two days ago, the the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a press release with a policy statement recommending that parents limit children under two to very small amounts of exposure to media screens.

A recent survey cited in the release found that 1/3 of three-year-olds have televisions in their bedrooms, which sounds insane to me, but what do I know? I may be nurse, but I'm not a parent.

The survey also revealed that parents who consider educational television to be "very important for healthy development" are twice as likely to keep the TV on all or most of the time. All the time? Really? Who knew Sesame Street was a gateway drug?

What do I mean by gateway drug? I don't mean to pick on Sesame Street in particular (especially since I adored it as a preschooler), but that show and others like it it did open the door for TV as edutainment, and probably fueled the popular, misguided belief that if some TV is a good thing, all TV must be good, so more TV is even better, and start 'em younger, and if the kids are quiet, why that's best of all!

I suppose it's not really fair for me to judge. I mean -- I've figured out that if I park my 50-year-old husband in front of Netflix streaming old StarTrek episodes (currently he's halfway through season 4 of TNG), I can safely leave him unattended for hours on end, especially if I strategically place some snacks close by.

As an amusing aside, I was flabbergasted to find out that the Sesame Street DVD set containing the episodes many of us grew up with are now considered inappropriate for children. Google it. I'm not kidding. Go figure.

In all seriousness, though, the American Association of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media set out to explore and report upon whether video and TV programs have any educational value for children under two, or whether they actually cause harm.

You can read about the key findings in the PDF press release, but the general gist is that our little ones need to interact directly with their environment in unstructured play in order to learn how the world works, and they need to bond with live people who are paying attention to them (which they can't do if we're wrapped up in our favorite shows (which they can't really understand the context and content of anyhow).

Worst of all, TV viewing can negatively affect their sleep habits, mood, and language development, and distracts them from the kind of learning that can help them the most.

If you want to learn more about the AAP policy statement, you can keep an eye out for the full report, which will be published online in the November 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Association of Pediatrics.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user iandeth.

What do you think of the electronic babysitter? Share in the TalkBacks below.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

    I'm going to take a wild guess and say it's because it puts them to sleep. The only thing I've seen that knocks a child out quicker than a low volume television is a car ride.
    • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

      @Aerowind<br>Actually, our pediatrician stated that TV is considered especially bad during the hour or two just before bed time. I also believe he quoted the quickly shifting imagery as one of the major sources of concern.
  • It's not safe to park your 50 yr old husband in front of Star Trek

    Capt Kirk got the woman, a different one, in almost every episode.
    Is that what you want your husband doing?

    On the other hand, it would get him to be more physically active; promoting his personal health.
    • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

      @Dr_Zinj Excellent use of lampooning sarcasm. You get one free internet.
    • Captain Picard not Kirk

      That's funny. But it's actually the series with Patrick Steward as Captain Picard, not Captain Kirk. So the only danger is that it may somehow turn him into a Shakespearean actor, which I wouldn't mind. Plus, after fifty years of combined dating between the two of us, we're pretty happy to have found each other and to be together.
      Denise Amrich, RN
  • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

    Hi Denise,

    Unfortunately the Sesame Street in our day cannot be used in Today's world. It is just too different. I do agree that it is ridiculous for parents to have a TV in their kids rooms. To me that is lazy parenting.
    • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

      We put a kid in the TV room, and after several days the TV appeared to be a lot smarter. :)
    • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

      @fandango1974 : I agree, but actually lazy parenting can go (and usually does go) farther in that they allow exposure to just about ANY influence, not limited to Sesame Street. Every parent should ask themselves "Does THIS TV show espouse and teach the same values that we parents hold?" Laziness allows them to rationalize and think (erroneously) 'well, isn't all "educational TV" good?' In fact there are way too many cases where unscrupulous writers manage to place seductive alternate values insidiously into the so called educational programs. I would go so far as to call attitudes of tolerance on the part of lazy parents abusive to their childrens well being. (I do realize that may come across as very strong, but please do think about it!)
      • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

        @Willnott "seductive alternative values"... well, you're interesting.
  • So assuming that TV/Monitors are bad for little ones...

    ...is it also ok to assume that this is bad for adults as well? In other words, why are "they" just saying that screens are bad for kids when we have a morbidly obese society in general who, when not working (if indeed they are), are busy eating too much & sitting in front of the tube? It would follow that media in this sense is bad for all, if overused, right?
    For my kids, educational TV is much better than it was in my childhood, & while I don't "park" them in front of the TV, they do watch a fair amount. They also spend time on the computer (yes at 3/5 years of age). However, they can all count past 10, recite their ABCs, have an interest in music & reading, & my eldest can even count to 10 in Spanish. We spend much time outdoors in decent weather, go to different places to learn about the world as appropriate, & in general have a well-rounded good time. It's like alcohol - a glass of wine a day is supposed to be good for one's health, but too much turns one into an alcoholic. Same with TV - when used appropriately, it can be very educational & appropriately entertaining, assuming that there are parents who care involved in their little lives...
  • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

    TV is the best thing that ever happened. If it wasn't for Toopie and Beenoo, my boy wouldn't eat broccolli or cauliflower. I 'heart' TV.<br>Everyone knows that what we & our children should all do is run around in grassy fields and eat vegetables that spring from the earth, and fresh water only from a flowing river of crisp clear freshness. We should run around and grab their hands and laugh and giggle with them, and toss them up and catch them, and chase bunnies through the grass.<br><br>But in this country, most of us have to work, and most of us don't live by big grassy fields. There's lots of rabbits here though.
  • Theres nothing wrong with TV

    Its the parents at fault. If you sat down with your toddler and involved them in a game involving the TV - say matching book pictures with the images on-screen thats as good as any TV you'll ever see.

    However, letting your kid sit for hours with their head in one of a series of books is just as bad as a videogame or TV for their social skills, and thats what toddlers are learning. The same goes for a lot of these 'automatic' toys that supposedly entertain and teach kids - let the child spend too much time with them and not interacting with an entire environment, or indeed with you or their peers, and their learning with not be as effective.

  • Thats the third time

    I've wasted quarter of an hour writing a paragraph just for the posting system to eat it.

    Fix your crap ZD, it happens on every computer I use as well as my own...
  • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

    I do agree that it is ridiculous for parents to have a TV in their kids rooms. To me that is lazy parenting.
  • RE: Was Sesame Street a gateway drug?

    American Academy of Pediatrics is being just as stupid as the parents who put TV's in a child's room before they are a teenager and show some kind of judgment.

    Anything in excess is bad, everything in moderation tends to round out a person. Depriving a child of all TV is just as bad as depriving them of anything sweet, or drinking anything other than milk.

    Variety is the key to producing a healthy well rounded individual. Starting from the day they are born until the day before they die.
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