Adventures in Ethics and Science

Dr. Free-Ride: I know you have some views, maybe, or questions, or something, about the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations about children, adolescents, and television. Although it’s not actually just television, it’s other screens, too. So, first off, can I get your general reaction to the fact that your pediatrician even has a view about what you should be doing with respect to screen time?

Elder offspring: (Piteous wailing.)

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s rather inarticulate.

Elder offspring: (Poses like the figure in “The Scream”)

Dr. Free-Ride: While this shows that you’ve been educated about art, it doesn’t really answer my question. Here, have a look at the concerns that their document lists. Are there particular of these concerns that you think are reasonable and particular one that you, personally, maybe think are not?


Elder offspring: Hmmm … I guess they’re all reasonable concerns.

Dr. Free-Ride: But then we get to the guidelines pediatricians should recommend for parents based on these concerns, and I know that this is where you sometimes express a disagreement: “Limit children’s total media time (with entertainment media) to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day.”

Elder offspring: So if we watch something really bad, then we don’t count that?

Dr. Free-Ride: Um, I don’t think we’re supposed to let you watch something that’s really bad at all.

Elder offspring: Drat! Why does it have to be one to two hours a day? That doesn’t take happiness into account.

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, happiness! What do you think your pediatrician would say in response to that? Or one of the pediatricians who doesn’t know you but was involved in making up the guidelines?

Elder offspring: (putting on a voice somewhere between pompous and stodgy) Happiness isn’t an important factor.

Dr. Free-Ride: I don’t think they’d say that, necessarily. I mean some of the thing they talk about up near the top [of the document], the effects of television they worry about — “violent and aggressive behavior, obesity, poor body concept and self-image, substance use, and early sexual activity” —

Elder offspring: Yes, I know.

Dr. Free-Ride: So they’re saying that if too much unsupervised exposure to stuff on TV actually leads to some of those things they list, I think their argument is that, in the long run, you won’t be as happy as you might be otherwise.

Elder offspring: Hmmph.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, how might you respond to that?

Elder offspring: Kids should get no more that four hours of screen time a day.

Dr. Free-Ride: Why four hours?

Elder offspring: Because then their parents can shoo them outside after their four hours are up and the children will still be happy.

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, you think there should be a compromise. You think two hours is too little.

Elder offspring: Yes!

Dr. Free-Ride: What does the two hour limit cut into for you? What would you be doing in terms of screen time if you had more than two hours a day? Do you want to make a positive argument for the value of those activities for you developing brain and social skills?

Elder offspring: You can learn things from video games.

Dr. Free-Ride: Like what?

Elder offspring: Like definitions of words

Dr. Free-Ride: Of course, you could do that reading books.

Elder offspring: Yes. You can also learn the spellings of words you always misspell, or that plants use chlorophyl — which is something I worked out from a Pokemon game, where on of the grass-type Pokemon’s abilities was chlorophyll, and it said that in sunny weather, the Pokemon’s speed goes up.

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm. So, where do you spend most of your time online?

Elder offspring: YouTube and forums, and Photoshop (but that’s not online, just on the computer).

Dr. Free-Ride: Tell me about what you get out of Photoshop?

Elder offspring: I create images.

Dr. Free-Ride: You’re doing art using new media, huh?

Elder offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: And what do you do in forums?

Elder offspring: Stuff.

Dr. Free-Ride: Have you made any friends on those forums?

Elder offspring: Do I wish to say?

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm. Well you could talk about potentially whether you might have made some —

Elder offspring: I don’t wish to talk.

Dr. Free-Ride: You don’t want to talk about your — hmm, now I’m curious about your forum activity. But I am not going to be one of those parents who spies on you online.

Elder offspring: Good.

Dr. Free-Ride: But, you could ask the pediatricians who came up with the guidelines, what’s wrong with interacting with people online? Isn’t interaction with other people a good thing, a part of how I become a fully integrated human being?

Elder offspring: I can talk to people around the world from my computer, at home.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s some that you value, something you think is not necessarily going to turn you violent or maladapted —

Elder offspring: No, of course not!

Dr. Free-Ride: — or hurt your body image?

Elder offspring: Why would it?!

Dr. Free-Ride: Hey, that’s a good question. What we’ve got here is a whole bunch of claims about screen time that are supposed to support these recommendations. But you, as a critical consumer of information, might want to ask …

Elder offspring: How do you know screen time does that stuff to kids?

Dr. Free-Ride: So, how much evidence there is?

Elder offspring: I don’t know.

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you think your pediatrician does, or knows how to find out, anyway?

Elder offspring: I don’t know.

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you think it’s worth asking your pediatrician when you see her?

Elder offspring: Maybe.

Dr. Free-Ride: It would be interesting to see the information the pediatricians looked at to decide what they think they know about TV.

Elder offspring: “Limit children’s total media time (with entertainment media) to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day”? What the heck does it mean by quality programming?

Dr. Free-Ride: So you’d like a more precise definition of “quality”?

Elder offspring: If I watch something bad?

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, maybe it’s not so bad if you watch it with an adult and discuss it?

Elder offspring: No, if it’s low quality, is it part of the two hours you’re limited to?

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm, I suspect that the recommendation means we should only let you watch high quality programming, and no more than two hours of that.

Elder offspring: These are recommendations for children and adolescents … how old do you have to be before they don’t apply anymore?

Dr. Free-Ride: You could ask her that. Also, check out recommendation #7.

Elder offspring: “Use the videocassette recorder wisely to show or record high-quality, educational programming for children.”

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you know what my question with that would be?

Elder offspring: Why educational? What’s high quality?

Dr. Free-Ride: No, who uses a VCR anymore?

Elder offspring: Ha!

Dr. Free-Ride: So, do you think the pediatricians are making these recommendations because they have positive evidence that more than two hours of screen time will rot your brain and destroy your body?

Elder offspring: Not really.

Dr. Free-Ride: They may be using something called the “precautionary principle,” which is the idea that if we don’t know what the effects are of something, we should be cautious about it

Elder offspring: Hmm,

Dr. Free-Ride: So if we don’t know what it’s going to do to a kid to watch eight hours of television a day, we should not blithely let a kid watch eight hours of TV a day.

Elder offspring: What?!

Dr. Free-Ride: I mean, if you don’t know what it would do to a kid to eat three pounds of sand, would you say, go ahead and eat three pounds of sand and we’ll find out?

Elder offspring: No. I’d say, go ahead and eat one and a half pounds of sand.

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm. Maybe part of what’s going on with this policy is people have raised concerns, maybe some of the research about what actually happens is still going on, and in the meantime they’re trying to be careful. They might be saying, if we don’t know but there’s a chance it could do something bad, we should watch this carefully rather than saying, go on, do whatever you want here.

Elder offspring: If you tried to study what eight hours of TV would do, wouldn’t it do different things to different kids? And couldn’t it be different for kids living in different countries, watching different shows or playing different video games?

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you think it’s worth asking what the actual research says, and how the researchers drew their conclusions?

Elder offspring: Mmm … I don’t know.

Dr. Free-Ride: You don’t think, if you found out that the evidence was ambiguous, that you might have grounds to challenge these recommendations, or your parents’ reliance on them?

Elder offspring: You might still limit our screen time then.

Dr. Free-Ride: Sure, but then it would just be because we’re unreasonable parents.

Comments

  1. #1 Kate
    July 16, 2010

    You’ve got a smart kid there, Dr. Free-Ride, and a great relationship with your sprogs. That was a real pleasure to read.

  2. #2 $0.01
    July 16, 2010

    bwah-hahaha! “go ahead and eat one and half pounds of sand.” EO is a sneaky mathematician with wisdom!
    I personally have no problem with “spying” on my kids online but mine are younger than yours.
    my real problem is that I still feel the need to pre-view many movies, etc before I let them watch. this can be exhausting. thus, I am relying more and more on the parental alert comments section of imdb.com, etc.
    BTW, tell your sprogs that they should be pleased that they have the luxury to watch 2 hrs a day– my kids get nothing during the week but still only a couple of hours on weekend days. I am taskmistress extraordinaire and fill their evenings with chores and low-tech toys and real-world books (and they are even going to summer school during the day!). and I am so mean that I haven’t even taught them how to turn on the tv or computer yet!
    but back to the real point– I do sometimes worry that I am handicapping my kids because they aren’t learning those multi-task joystick mouse keyboard multiple windows online gaming while IM’ing 21st century skills as early as their peers. is there a study for that yet? have I already detroyed their [virtual world] potential?

  3. #3 DuWayne
    July 16, 2010

    This is interesting to me, because I actually would really like to get eldest (we have some time before it is an issue with youngest) into a school that uses computers as a significant classroom tool. I rather wonder myself, how that would play into the AAP’s guidelines.

    I am not terribly concerned about it now, because it is virtually impossible to pry him off of his bike or out of whatever activity he has come up with outside. I am not sure how far past eight this will last, but I am loving it while I can.

  4. #4 rehana
    July 16, 2010

    Sprog the Elder is starting to sound really smart, not just smart-for-a-kid.

  5. #5 Dan Hicks
    July 17, 2010

    Dr. Free-Ride: But then we get to the guidelines pediatricians should recommend for parents based on these concerns, and I know that this is where you sometimes express a disagreement: “Limit children’s total media time (with entertainment media) to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day.”

    Elder offspring: So if we watch something really bad, then we don’t count that?

    I see the Elder Offspring has already started a grad program in philosophy. You must be so proud!

  6. #6 Theodore MS3
    July 17, 2010

    Hilarious conversation, and yes as per above especially eldest is developing quite a lot of critical conversation skills. I believe it is kind of interesting what will happen with these guidelines in the future. I am part of a new batch of doctors emerging from medical school who grew up with easy access to video games and television. I will readily admit to breaking these guidelines pretty much during my entire childhood, and I was even more rebellious once I got out of my parent’s house. It wasn’t a high point in my life though there were several months there where I played more than 60 hours a week of an online video game. A few years later I decided on a career in medicine and went after it with the same kind of enthusiasm.

    Yeah, I know I am an exception, but at the same time the media pounces on criminal behaviors with connections to video games. We never hear positive stories. What disconcerts me most about the “media science” research campaign is very much a pre-determined approach to demonstrate negative effects. An evidence based alarm bell goes off when someone picks MTV as the source of media, then is surprised by images of sexuality, weapons and racial stereotyping then the AAP holds that up as appropriate evidence that there is a positive health benefit to limiting screen time. Does that bug anyone else?

    Possible positive hypothesis tend to be ignored, and not even from high-value content, things such as goal-orientated behavior, education about possible careers, alternative visions about the future, social expectations learned through games, team-building, and deep strategy also in games. This doesn’t mention shared experiences and the possibilities for group involvement. I can’t talk with residents about how I went biking as a kid and if they ever went biking, but a question about favorite childhood video game is a great starter. Plus, I would prefer for my kids to be hanging out with friends on my sofa playing games then loitering behind the school any day of the week.

    Don’t get me wrong some of these are great tips, sure still lacking scientific backing but commendable; getting screens out of bedrooms has the best evidence pertaining to health, as is no TV for less than two year olds, below that is DVRing content is a good way to manage and follow consumption, using media as a way to engage adolescents, positive role modeling for consumption habits, and using content as a platform to approach conversations about values. I have no problem with those, they are mildly supported by evidence or fall into the plausible-but-not-supported-by-evidence realm of alternative medicine. But the one to two hour limit? I kinda think that is a joke and it is a very long stretch to say that is evidence related much less based. Especially as more and more of our culture involves digital content and digital interactions. What about music or fiction books that have violent and sexual themes? Twilight books anyone? Does that get a free ride? How can we even cluster blogging and social networking in the same realm as channel surfing? That is just not science, add in the precautionary principle and you get something much more like abstinence only education and much less like medicine.

    Per the aspects of obesity and metabolism related to screen-time. I was taught that there is extensive evidence demonstrating that quality/quantity of food is to blame and not sedentary pediatric lifestyles.

  7. #7 ranggaw0636
    July 17, 2010

    “Elder offspring: “Use the videocassette recorder wisely to show or record high-quality, educational programming for children.”

    Dr. Free-Ride: Do you know what my question with that would be?

    Elder offspring: Why educational? What’s high quality?

    Dr. Free-Ride: No, who uses a VCR anymore?”
    My mom still used it to record her favorite show

  8. #8 davidp
    July 20, 2010

    Are these paediatricians in any way similar to the two who think assertive women are abnormal see here

    If so, don’t trust them.

  9. #9 Super Sally
    July 22, 2010

    EO seems to be exhibiting the lawyer gene that runs in the family. Lots of luck!