A Program of

Born for Love: Empathy versus Screen Time

I’m still working my way through Szalavitz and Perry’s book Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential- and Endangered. In case you missed them, check out last June’s post on Too Much Empathy or July’s post on Baby Bonding & Stress Reduction.

Today’s post will be significantly shorter, since my favorite distraction for the little people in my life, PBS’s Word World, no longer seems like such a good idea. Chapter 10 Glued to the Tube was a good reminder of a fact most of us know too well. Television isn’t a great thing for kids. Pediatricians routinely ask about screen time at well-check visits. National campaigns to turn off the set for a week like TVTurnOff.org crop up periodically to put us all back on a screen time diet.

And yet, nearly anyone who spends copious amounts of time with energetic kids who wake around 6 and would otherwise move (nearly always requiring guidance, supervision, or simple camaraderie) until 7:30 or 8 at night, will admit to falling back on a little television time simply to preserve sanity.

Brandon, the case study in this chapter, is clearly an exaggerated outlier. His plight should not keep those of us who depend on a program or two to help us recharge on hectic days (or more recently, catch a catnap now while our new baby is still in his intermittent sleep phase). When Brandon is introduced to us, though, he makes a real impact. The poor kid was raised by a severely depressed mother, which is to say, we was raised by 12 hours of television per day. It’s a heartbreaking story.

As a result, he learned to speak in a loud voice full of forced enthusiasm. He learned to speak like a commercial. And because his television surrogate could never mirror his emotions or react if Brandon showed empathy, his capacity to connect in that way has been severely limited.  The author’s clarify what happened this way:

You can’t learn empathy from something that can’t empathize – and without reciprocity and interaction during teaching, learning is severely impaired.

According to the authors and some emerging research, even educational programming like Clifford the Big Red Dog leads to increased aggression, in some cases more so than obviously violent programming.

So, as the hot, relatively unscheduled days of summer stretch to a close, I’ve put us on a bit of television diet.  To help me out during these groggy low-creativity days, I created a menu of good alternatives for backyard fun based on a number of helpful resources. My own list had to meet the confines of our current new-born-centric schedule, meaning minimal setup and relatively low parental guidance once the task is off and running.

Here are a few good sites I found, if you’re looking for alternatives yourself:

With the television off, we’ll be having some good old fashioned backyard fun and strengthening those empathy muscles rather than numbing them with extra screen time!

Related posts:

Leave a Reply