Advocates Say Program Keeps Kids Awake
March 11, 2009
NEW YORK (AP) — Some experts say a three-hour bedtime TV show for preschoolers does more to keep kids awake than ease them into sleep.
Harvard University psychologist Susan Linn, who runs the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, asked the PBS Kids Sprout network to get rid of "The Good Night Show," which mixes cartoons and skits with a puppet about getting ready for bed.
Linn said the show seems more designed to keep kids in front of the TV than spend time with their parents.
But PBS Kids Sprout chief Sandy Wax says she lives in the "real world" where families watch television, and is trying to do her best to put on programs that help parents.
"The Good Night Show" has aired from 6 to 9 p.m. since the 2005 start of PBS Kids Sprout, a digital network aimed at children aged 2 to 5 and available in fewer than half of the nation's TV homes. The show features Nina, an actress who portrays a parentlike figure, and a star-shaped puppet named Star.
They appear in between cartoons such as "Caillou," "Thomas & Friends" and "Angelina Ballerina," discussing themes like responsibility. The show was created with the help of pediatric psychologists and is designed for parents to watch with their children as the young ones are getting ready for bed, Wax said.
Linn, who wrote to Wax this week along with the Center for Screen-Time Awareness, questions whether there should be a TV network for preschoolers in the first place. She doesn't object to the cartoons on "The Good Night Show," just how they are marketed.
"Don't pretend that the reason you have programming is to help children go to sleep," she said.
On one show in February, Star pleads at 7:12 p.m. for more time to stay up. "We can stay up a little longer, because coming up our Sproutlet friends have something to share with us," Nina replies, telling viewers, "don't go away."
Fifty minutes later, it's still not time for Star to go to bed.
When the show was over, an ad runs encouraging children to visit the network's Web site.
"We want the viewer to know that the show is going to continue on," Wax said. "But it's the parent's decision of when to go to bed."
Jodi Mindell, a psychologist and expert on sleep issues at St. Joseph's University, said that studies show TV viewing at bedtime is detrimental to children. TV is stimulating and engaging, precisely at a time you want children to disengage, she said.
One-third of parents with children aged 6 and lower said their children have televisions in their bedrooms, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Ninety percent of children aged 4 to 6 either spend time on the computer or watch television or videos each day, the group said.
Bedtime, in particular, is an important time for parents to spend with their children, Mindell said. "It's very sad to replace quality parent-child time with television," she said.
If the television has to be on, "The Good Night Show" beats cartoons with Ninja warriors, she said.
Wax said the program is designed to promote that time together, for parents to watch while cuddling with their kids on the couch. It's tough enough to be a parent, "let's not take away things that are being helpful," she said.
"We're not about this ideology of what should and shouldn't happen in the home," she said. "We're living in the real world."
Linn said she was concerned that the involvement of PBS would trick parents into thinking "The Good Night Show" was better for their children than it is. PBS Kids Sprout, however, is a for-profit network with partners that include Comcast, PBS, HIT Entertainment and Sesame Workshop, Wax said.