Is TV bad? It depends. If your child is watching it 24/7 to the point where they are not getting any exercise at all, then of course this is wrong. But, if your child is just sitting in front of it as a means to relax then- it depends.
It depends on the child. I have 7 children, 3 adopted, all different. For the most part, in regards to TV and video games, it boils down to two distinct personality types: The ‘followers’ and the ‘problem-solvers.’ How do you know which you are blessed with? Plop them down in front of a popular action-packed TV show. (When my children were little it was The Power Rangers.) After the show the ‘followers’ are re-enacting what they saw. The problem-solvers are at your side explaining to you what was wrong with the show and how the character could have done something better.
Some children are ‘followers.’ When they watch TV they tend to pick up the mannerisms of their favorite characters, copy their behaviors and internalize their values. These are the children who, after watching Power Rangers, need to immediately kick and punch their brother, parent or any other person in the vicinity no matter how many times you tell them not to. Since TV strongly affects how they live their lives, their TV consumption must be monitored and limited. But, since this is an issue that extends into ‘real life’ where they will also copy their friends and teachers without analyzing why, TV can be used to teach them to judge their actions and not follow so blindly. With these children parents can use TV as an opportunity to sit down and talk about the behavior of the characters to help them learn how to analyze and think before they follow another’s example (and without the child going back and telling their teacher that you said what she was doing is wrong).
Other children are more analytical. They problem-solve and need to think about everything. These are the children that, after the hundredth ‘Why?’ you really want them to shut up and go play somewhere else. These children, if taught a good set of morals, will get much out of TV. TV will help them to understand that there are evil people in the world, so they will not be naïve, and explain to them why people do the things they do so they will be more understanding with others. (These children have a tendency to be ‘legalistic’ and unbending.) Their problems in life tend to be because they believe everyone will think before they act and that no one would ever purposefully hurt them. (Can we say ‘naïve?’) TV helps them to process and learn so they are not surprised that not everyone behaves. It can be used as a tool to keep them from having to be hurt because of their naivety. Again, parents who are willing to talk with them about the shows they watch are key, even if it means answering a long list of ‘why’ questions. TV watching for these children is not as much of an issue since they are unlikely to blindly do what they see on TV.
The same goes for video games. Some children play them blindly. They need the high score and become frustrated when they lose or are told to turn them off. They are not problem-solving when they play, but just trying to ‘find’ what works. They also do not mind using ‘cheats,’ since it is not about how they got the high score, but just that they did. (Can you see some issues with this line of thinking?) Giving these children time limits helps them to learn to control their frustrations. Parents who sit beside them while they play and talk to them after their character ‘dies’ about what they could have done better can use the game to help them develop problem solving skills. But since these skills do not come naturally, the child will not enjoy this and will just want to get back to his game now. This is not to say that you should not hold the conversation anyways, but that you should keep it short and expect some push back.
Other children analyze the games. They are not just playing the game, but thinking about how they would create their own. Even the death of the character leads them to a new insight on how they should play differently, or how their game (the game they would invent) would be structured. For these children video games provide a lot of mental stimulation that does benefit them in the long run. Parents should always talk to their children about whatever they are currently interested in, but in this case, the parent should expect to sit down and listen to a very long explanation about everything (and I mean everything) to do with the game. The biggest thing a parent can do wrong in this situation is to act bored, or leave, so enter with a cup of coffee and be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about some make-believe place.
My opinion: TV and video games have their place, but it is not mindless babysitting. For the follower, they can be used to teach self-control and how to think before you act. For the problem-solver it provides new things to think about, and opportunities to analyze and learn from other’s mistakes without having to experience them themselves. The ‘follower’ has more to lose from watching inappropriate material, while there is some benefit to showing the problem-solver (who tends to be naïve) things they may want to avoid. The best advice: Know your children, listen to them and talk to them frequently about what is important in their lives, in this case, the pretend worlds that TV and video games have to offer. And remember, pretend people have problems that can be discussed without your child going back to the person and telling them what you said about their situation- This is a huge bonus!