kids short attention spans (so *nicely designed by the tellie)
I'm not sure. I like television. I especially enjoy watching television with my kids. But it's a very different thing for us than it "may be" for others.
I saw a report the other day which I'm inclined to accept because it agrees with both my prejudice and my experience. They examined children who watched violent TV shows and then tested the kids about how they felt about using violence to resolve issues. Unsurprisingly, the kids who watch voilent programs were more likely to think it was okay to initiate violence (compared to the control group). OTOH, they repeated the experiment, but this time they had parents talk to the kids about the violence they saw. Miraculously, the kids who saw the violent programs were no more likely to think initiation of violence was okay than those who did not see violent programs.
<= end of detour
I've been convinced for a very long time based only on my intuition about it and prior to having read anything on the subject, that much of what kids learn whether directly (acceptability of violence) or indirectly (short attention span) is the failure of the parent to interact with the kids regarding what they watch. I watch lowly shows all the time with my kids and they have very long attention spans and stay out of trouble at school. I've also played some really violent video games with them - still no problem. I'm not passing a judgement here on people who elect not to let their kids watch crap. I sympathize with them and am grateful (as a member of the larger society) that they are actually thinking the problem through and making an effort to do the right thing by their kids.
In general I get a lot of out watching tv with my kids and talking with them about what they see. And I think they're getting a lot out of it as well.
When my youngest was 4 I took her to a rated R movie (that one about the last dragon where sean connery does the voice - don't remember on what basis it took that rating). I've even made a point of watching Howard Stern and Jerry Springer with them - not on a regular basis, but enough to let them see that part of the world. While we're watching, I'm commenting "Do you think that was a good thing to do? Was there something else they might have done instead? Is that solving a problem?"
A good argument could be made, I think, that it would be better to teach kids these things from, say, the great classics of literature. I'm reading W&P as I mentioned previously (and this really could be the greatest novel ever written), but I think my kids would have been too bored by this - even the condensed version - when I started the process. (Just a guess.) Also, people read these stories all the time and don't learn from them. I *do* love this book - the sycophantic prince vasili who weasel's private gain from other's misfortunes, the gossipy Anna Mihalovna who uses rumor and innuendo to sew discord (but always with the most noble intentions, she believes, but really to maintain her position in society), the young rostov who keeps imagining himself a great hero on the battlefield, but habitually fails to live up to his ideal of himself (but then reinvents his failure into success when he tells his story), the bungling Pierre who wants to do the right thing, but is so incompetent from a youth squandered in dissipation that he can't get it right ... well, I love this, but it's so abstract sounding ... to a child. I mean adults can read this stuff and say, "Oh, yes, I get it! This is marvelous!" But then they go right out and act like Prince Vasili or Anna Mihalovna. That's because in real life, the process of embracing evil is gradual. (I think Tolstoy has this right over Dostoyevsky.) (My 9 yo asked me last year to read A Tale of Two Cities to her, one of my favorite books, but I've held off partly because I don't want her to suddenly get bored with it - and I want her to really get into the characters.)
I can watch the Springer stuff with them and they see it immediately and they understand in their bones. "Daddy, he's very bad." "Well, he's not acting very charming is he?" "No. Not at all."
Having a few examplae non gratiae is arguably a convenience for "reality-based" parenting, but why is it necessary to have 24 hours of continuous crap? And for that I offer no explanation. The vast majority of what is on is not stuff I find remotely entertaining.
I'm reminded of an incident with my oldest. I used to get home really, really late. If my kids were up, one would lay in front of me facing the tv on the couch, while the other would lay atop. On this occasion, the youngest had already gone to bed and the oldest (maybe 6 to 10 at the time) and I were watching Beavis and Butthead about midnight or so. It was one where they go to see a medium. She looks in her crystal ball and says, "I see you are not ze A students." BnB are not impressed. "And I see you are not ze B students." BnB are slightly alarmed. "And I see you are not ze C students!" BnB are utterly amazed now. My daughter turns her head to me and says, "Daddy, I love Beavis and Butthead, but nobody's that stupid. Not really." Poor kid. I didn't have the heart to tell her.
Aside from the refutation of bad examples, though, I think the television has helped my kids in their vocabularies. They learned a lot of made-up words from their mom. The freezer is "the frozen place" and the shade is "the shadow place." That's fine, but they failed to learn common words like "drapes" and "cupboard" (really, no kidding) and so forth. Playing games with them has helped a lot in this, but also I think they've learned a heck of a lot of common vocabulary by watching television.
I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you. I'm uncertain, but my bias is to think that it isn't that television is the culprit by itself - it's that people are using the tv like a baby-sitter. Kids need interaction. TV by itself just isn't going to be able to do this (well, not now anyway).