My colleague Russ Robert’s not impressed by my claim that T.V. is great for the family.  My three main arguments, to refresh your memory:

1. Television is fun.  I don’t want my son to miss out on one of life’s great pleasures.

2. Television is a cheap electronic baby-sitter that allows parents of young kids to get a much-needed break.

When my son is older, the threat to deprive him of television will
become one of our most convenient and effective tools of discipline. 
The naughty corner‘s usually enough, but when bad behavior persists, it’s time for a night without t.v.

Russ objects that “you can replace the word ‘Television’ with ‘single-malt scotch’ and the same logic applies.”  Even if he were right, alcohol has obvious negative side effects that television lacks.  But I see major disanalogies on all three of my points:

1. Social drinkers often seem to be having fun, but other drinkers don’t.  Kids are vastly more fascinated by television than alcohol.  And kidults notwithstanding, childish programming is a lot less fun once you’re an adult.  So if you deny your kids Saturday morning cartoons, they’ll probably never know their sheer joy.

2. Unlike t.v., alcohol is not a cheap substitute for a baby-sitter.  In fact, alcohol consumption reduces inhibition and thereby increases bad behavior.

3. Depriving drinkers of alcohol tends to make them belligerent, making it a high-cost punishment to impose.

Russ continues:

We spent a lot of hours reading to our kids. They all like to read.
They also like to amuse themselves in a variety of non-TV ways. I think
those are good things.

So do I.  Reading is a wonderful gift to share with your children.  But so is television.

His last point:

[S]tudies that relate the family environment to various outcomes (IQ,
criminality, happiness) are not experiments where people parent in
random ways and the results are observed. People parent as best they
can. The fact that there is little relationship between parenting
strategies and outcomes does not mean that ANY parenting strategy will
have no effect.

Actually, simple observational studies do find a negative correlation between television viewing and various measures of success.  In the GSS, for example, the correlation between IQ and hours of television watched is -.18.  But such results ignore the effect of genes.  My arguments rely on twin and adoption studies, which control for genes, and find little or no long-run effect of family environment on IQ, criminality, happiness, etc.

Russ is absolutely correct to state that “The fact that there is little relationship between parenting
strategies and outcomes does not mean that ANY parenting strategy will
have no effect.”  Twin and adoption studies focus on vaguely normal families.  They aren’t designed to detect the effect of rare parental strategies like nursing babies on single-malt scotch.  But they are ideally designed to detect the effects of common parental strategies – like allowing or disallowing television viewing.  They don’t.