The Great Screen-Time Tug-of-War

Tug of war contested at the 1904 Summer Olympi...

Tug of war contested at the 1904 Summer Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The screentime tug-of-war is, I’m sure, a very very common sport in households today. Technology offers us ever more brilliant and enthralling ways to entertain and educate ourselves, and the desire for knowledge is a good thing, right? And yet, and yet, many parents harbour great anxiety about the slippery slope of screen time.*

Steve Almond has written a great piece on this for the New York Times: My Kids Are Obsessed With Technology, And It’s All My Fault. More


Positive Role Models for Girls

I don’t watch much tv these days (who has the time?), but here’s a list of current TV shows with Positive Girl Role Models from Commonsense Media.

My six-year-old is in turns fascinated and mystified by the world of teenagers. She loves to mimic their catchphrases, and even tries on their ‘world weary attitude’ for size. Her classmates are starting to pay attention to teen pop stars and other young celebrities. One problem with this is that so much tween and teen media is rife with girl vs. girl antagonism, gossip, rivalry and catfights. It takes some effort to find shows in which girls are thoughtful, nice, loyal and true friends to each other. And that show girls who have interests other than boys and the mall.

We may have come some distance in media depictions of women. At least we can see women in a variety of non-traditional careers now, but there still remain insidious stereotypes about how girls treat each other and these still need to be turned upside down. And don’t even get me started on the depiction of women in comic books and computer games…

We’ve still got a long way to go, baby.

See also: Commonsense’s list of Strong Female Characters in Books.

And on this blog, type “strong girls” into the search box above to see my list of great female characters in books and movies.

TV Ads Are Bad: “More TV Means More Junk Food”

From the Hospital for Sick Children’s website, “More TV Means More Junk Food”.

Even if you don’t believe in the pervasive influence of advertising on our thought processes, you can’t deny that if your child doesn’t even know that a particular product exists… he/she won’t pester you for it!

p.s. Another vital factor in the equation is the influence of parental example – I sure wish I was a better model of healthy eating! (Oh Cheezies, how I adore you…)

Media Tips for Babies and Toddlers, from Common Sense Media

A (very) brief article on Common Sense Media about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation re. babies and screentime. Also includes link to results of a survey done by Common Sense entitled Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America.


No screen time for babies under 2. The Real World is still the best teacher!

There is no software that will make your child more ‘school-ready’.

Letting your kids have tv’s in their bedrooms is a bad idea.

Spongebob vs Caillou! (new study)

A new study was released today comparing the attention spans of four-year-olds watching two programs, SpongeBob Squarepants and Caillou (with a third group drawing pictures instead of watching tv).

After just nine minutes the SpongeBob  group showed “temporary attention and learning problems” – in sharp contrast to the other two groups.

The official Nickelodeon defense is of course that SpongeBob is aimed at an older audience than four-year-olds, but that does not reduce the value of this research. While the test group was quite small and further studies seem to be called for, it still raises important questions about how certain programs can affect attention span and “executive function”. It also helps to underline how important age-appropriate programming is. For non-parents it would seem a no-brainer that you shouldn’t show your toddler older programming, however in this day and age it is becoming impossible to control what your child is watching with televisions blaring in so many public spaces. Case in point: the ferry ride we took recently that played SpongeBob in the play area for well over an hour!

(For full story about study click here.)

New York Times article on Boys and Reading

I just read an interesting article from the New York Times entitled “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” by novelist Robert Lipsyte.

Strangely enough, the same “mostly true” cliché he cites (that girls will read books about boys but boys won’t read books with female main characters) exists in children’s television as well: girls will watch ‘boy shows’ but boys will not watch ‘girl shows’. But whereas in publishing this theory has led to fewer and fewer ‘boys’ books’, in television the result has been fewer and fewer girl characters.

Why? I think it’s because book publishers are wary about aiming product directly at a gender that doesn’t read so much, so as a result they hedge their bets. They add female characters to the boys books (as the author states) to hopefully entice the legions of girl readers.

In television-land – Hunter S. Thompson’s “long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs” ¹there is no such thing as a “reluctant boy tv-watcher”, so the impulse is instead to reduce the number of girls on all sides, because you can conceivably capture both genders as an audience for your show as long as you don’t scare off the boys with too many alpha females onscreen. So, more often than not, when you have an ensemble cast of 5… 3 will be boys. If there are 3 characters, 2 will be boys. Girls are to be kept in the pert and pretty minority.

But I digress. Interesting article, like I said.


¹ Sigh. I never get tired of using that quote!  Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (New York: Summit Books, 1988), p. 43.

All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.