Law Makes It Illegal to Let Your Kids Laze in Front of TV

kids watching tvIf you're prone to use the TV as a babysitter, take heed! There's a new law that means parents may face hefty fines if their children’s screen time is deemed to exceed “reasonable” parameters. But don't panic yet ... there's good news -- for American parents anyway?

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This is happening in Taiwan, where parents could face as much as a $50,000 (Taiwanese dollars) fine if they're caught letting their kids sit in front of the TV, iPad, or computer.

But with parenting experts and doctors frequently warning parents against excessive screen time for kids, it's certainly worth asking ... should the United States consider adopting some form of this Child and Youth Welfare and Protection Act?

Here is why that would be a very, very bad idea:

1. The wording is extremely vague. What does “reasonable” even mean? According to the Taiwanese law, it’s for “so long that it causes them to become ill, either physically or mentally.”

So would dry eyes be considered enough of a physical illness? Carpal tunnel syndrome? How about the TV falling on them? (Apparently, that’s something that sends an American child to the ER every 30 minutes.)

And what about mental illness due to excessive screen-time? How would that manifest itself, exactly? Considering that, throughout history, things like homosexuality, unemployment, a belief in women’s rights, and unpopular political opinions have all been deemed mental illnesses warranting institutions, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, and euthanasia, it’s safe to say that the government can pathologize anything it wants and deal with it accordingly.

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Basically, if your kid throws a temper tantrum in a supermarket and someone in authority with a grudge decides it’s due to excessive TV watching (since there is no official cut-off number), then that’s a fine for you!

Of course, that does beg the question of how the government will monitor said excessive screen-time? Will they ask parents to fill out logs? Will they ask children to self-report? (The Soviet immigrant in me can’t help thinking of the Russian boy who was considered a national hero after he turned in his parents for hoarding food they’d grown themselves.) Or will they plant handy micro-chips in all devices to instantly beam the results back for analysis? Maybe this is action the NSA would like to get in on?

2. Not all screen-time is created equal. Yes, it’s possible that my 15-year-old may have spent the past 24 hours either on Facebook or binge-watching the TV series, Freaks & Geeks (a fine, quality program, by the way, and I have a Master’s degree in Television Analysis!). But he was doing it to de-stress from a week of final and Regent exams at the most academically demanding high school in NYC. More importantly, I gave him my permission to do it. (Well, more like I didn’t stop him from doing it.) It was my choice as his parent. I don’t need the state second-guessing me.

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Meanwhile, his 11-year-old brother also spends a lot of time online. But he is teaching himself computer programming -- quite possibly the most important job skill for the 21st century -- and building courses to help other kids learn, too. And when he’s not coding, he’s reading -- on his Kindle. Because that’s where he has access to classic books like his current favorite, the Anne of Avonlea series, for free. I have no problem with either of those activities. In fact, I encourage them.

3. In the end, it comes down to a simple fact: My kid, my rules. I don’t need to be told what to feed them, I don’t need to be told when they should go to bed, or even that it’s too cold, why isn’t that child wearing a hat?

I will decide what electronic devices they need. For instance, my kids’ cellphones have no games or other frills on them, they are for emergency calling and texting only. I will decide what TV shows are acceptable, and how much screen-time is too much.

I don’t need the government’s advice. Or their censure.

How about you? What do you think of a law like this?


Image © iStock.com/Vesna Andjic

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