Child Activists Slam Sprout

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Sprout trade barbs over program block

Children's activists Tuesday slammed Sprout, likening it to a TV version of a sleeping pill for toddlers, while the network's president said it was, instead, a chance for parents and kids to unwind together.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness have called out PBS Kids Sprout over its Good Night Show (6-9 p.m.), drawing a strong defense from the network's president.

In a letter  to Sprout's president, Sandy Wax, CCFC asked the cable and satellite channel to stop luring young kids by misleading parents into believing that the shows would help get their kids "wind down after a busy day.... We urge you to stop packaging your evening program as a sleep aid for children," said CCFC.

"The Good Night Show is not a sleep aid for children," Wax told B&C. "It's a tool for parents to help them establish a bedtime routine for their preschooler."

CCFC which comprises more than two dozen kids advocacy groups including the Action Coalition for Media Education, Alliance for Childhood, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, argues that for very young children TV viewing can produce irregular sleep patterns and says it isn't so hot for older kids either.

"Parents trust that programming on PBS and its affiliated networks will be beneficial to children," said CCFC Director Dr. Susan Linn in a statement. "Sprout is exploiting that trust by implying that its programming will ease children into sleep when research suggests that screen time before bed undermines healthy sleep habits."

Sprout licenses programming from PBS, but it is a co-production of four partners, PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop, and HIT Entertainment.

Wax takes strong exception to the criticism, but also says the reality is that kids already watch a lot of TV and parents are looking for a way to share that time with quality programming that helps both parents and kids relax together at the end of the day.

"Since day one, Sprout's mission has been to foster parent-preschooler interaction." she says. "Before we even launched The Good Night Show in September 2005, we heard consistently from parents that bedtime was the most challenging part of the day for them, so that's why we created this tool to help parents wind their kids down and get ready for bed each night." She says the network has done its homework. "Child development experts play an ongoing and critical role in all Sprout programming. We even utilized pediatric sleep specialists to help us develop content for The Good Night Show." Wax says Sprout conducts ongoing research and keeps an "open dialogue" with its audience. Sprout is available in 45 million homes on Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV, Cox, Verizon, AT&T.

Wax says the block is not meant to lure kids from their parents. "The Good Night Show is not a replacement for family activities like reading and playing," she says. "In fact, it promotes those very same activities by modeling those situations between Nina, the caregiver, and Star, the child. We are passionate about kids and we believe that getting kids to bed is critical to their growth and development."

She also suggests it is critical to deal with the world as it is. "we are also living in the real world and it's a reality that this generation of parents, who were raised on Sesame Street, are looking to media as a resource," she says. "It's not about ideology. It's about the real world where 75% of kids ages 2-5 watch television every day (according to Kaiser Family Foundation) and parents want a simple way to wind down with their kids at night and make quality television a part of their family routine. "