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Is watching television good or bad?

It's you who decides it.

Educational researchers have been on top of this issue for decades. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of their results which are full of complexity and ambiguity. If you ask whether children who watch a lot of TV do worse in school, the outcome depends on what sort of home they live in. If the parents are middle class, then a lot of TV viewing goes along with lower school grades. Evidently TV time precludes interaction with the parents that may be intellectually enriching not to mention eating into time available for homework. For these reasons, and others, children should not watch more than three hours of TV per day.

Results for children of impoverished parents are altogether different. The more TV they watch, the better their grades. If parents are not stimulating, then the kids do better watching the idiot box than conversing with their parents, sad to say. Incidentally, it is not just a stereotype that poor homes are intellectually impoverishing. Observational research has shown that parents on welfare spend far less time talking to their children than working class, or professional parents, resulting in an impoverished vocabulary.

So it really isn’t that black and white!

So much for families! What about countries? Children in wealthier nations score higher on IQ, do better in tests of school learning, and attain higher levels of education. The case for Pakistan goes in reverse! The parents are mostly reliant on their kids learning from television and have minimum contact with the children. The things they need to be learning from their parents, is supposed to motivate them, supposed to break taboos — relying on television to teach those hushed topics to kids is negligence in its worst form!

How does one account for the greater academic success in wealthy countries? It could be that they have more money to invest in schools, that parents prepare their children better for success in education, or that daily life requires more complex thinking and problem-solving. One way of combining all of these explanations is to note that education and intelligence are more important for success in urban economies than they are on farms.

Just as TV is potentially enriching for youngsters in poor homes, it is also enriching for children in poor countries. Kids who watch television in moderation do better in school which is another way of saying that they have become more intelligent.

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