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Friday, October 14, 2005

Once again, the issue bears clarifying. It's a given, I think, that 93.47% of TV is crap, and that adults are entitled to indulge in as much crap as they want. The concern is the effect of TV on the cognitive development of unformed little brains, and unfortunately there isn't much conclusive evidence. We as parents need to study this further, therefore, because TV is bound to follow our kids everywhere they go.

Basically, I'm awfully tired of getting hooked by headlines like this, only to find out that "researchers were not able to establish a cause-and-effect relationship." Thanks a bunch, folks. Why'd you even bother?

I can't take a piece like this very seriously either, because it's trying to scare us into buying some sort of miracle snake-oil pills.

From what I've read, this piece is as even-handed as they come. It references (with the usual caveats) three studies reporting "a negative correlation of television set-in-use time and subsequent cognitive and language development" in infants and toddlers. (This correlation seems to lessen once the kids reach age 3.) And even the AAP, to whom I'm more inclined to listen when corporate interests are less involved, "discourages" parents from letting kids under 2 watch the box.

I think I have a solution. Kids need to experience life tangibly, and parents need a break every once in a while to go pee in peace. Therefore, I propose that children under 3 be limited to watching home movies of themselves. That way, we can temper the harm of televisual stimulation and supply a healthy dose of postmodern narcissism to boot.

UPDATE: Hey! Madonna's on my side! So I've got that going for me.

Permalink | Television | Comments (3)

If you can live TV-free, then more power to you. But there's no need to get all self righteous about TV-free living. One lifestyle isn't necessarily better than the other. It's just different. So instead getting down on parents who let their kids veg out a bit, how about setting them up for success instead of failure?

Instead of declaring that all TV is bad, the American Academy of Pediatrics should be empowering parents. They should establish guidelines to help parents make smart choices. Avoid these types of shows. Don't let your child watch more than X number of hours per week. Help your kids not get overpowered by commercials and marketing.

Let's acknowledge that people are going to watch television and their kids are going to watch television too. However, TV isn't a substitute for real-life experience. It's a tool for harried parents to turn to occasionally.

Permalink | Television | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I have no problem with old-school icons like Fred Rogers, or even newbies like Buster (even though Buster’s dad is a human with rabbit ears—what’s up with that?) There will always be good TV shows, and those will always be outnumbered tenfold by crappy TV shows. The real harm is the process of watching TV, which suppresses brainwave activity and subconsciously teaches kids to embrace a passive, detached sense of reality. Watching TV seems like an experience, but it isn’t, and little kids are too young to know the difference.

The highfalutin PhD’s who consult on children’s TV shows know this and have created shows like “Blue’s Clues” and “Dora the Explorer,” which encourage children to interact with the characters. But it’s an abysmal failure, because TV is not an interactive medium. Steve asks, “Is the clue to my left, or my right?” After a brief, awkward silence, a studio voice or two yells “Left!” And sure enough, he looks to his left. Why should any kid bother answering when he knows some ringer will do it for him? Besides, if they want my son to learn how to yell at the TV, he can just watch me during a Red Sox game.

We’ve had to resort to TV as a temporary distraction from time to time, but whenever I can, I engage the kid physically rather than let his brainwaves slouch around. Like that time we watched the “New Yankee Workshop” and afterward took apart and rebuilt his clothes dresser. He may one day think I’m a lunatic, but at least the experience was real.

Permalink | Television | Comments (1)

Just as I would never leave Todder in Chief in the kitchen with a stepstool up to the knife set on the countertop, I would never hand him the television remote and walk away.

Because I'm the grown-up, I get to make executive decisions. That includes what programs he gets to watch and for how long he can watch them. He does get to make small decisions about his TV time, though. For example, "Do you want to watch Thomas or Blue's Clues?" In that situation, we both win. He feels like he has some control over his two-year-old life, and I know that he isn't flipping between Winx Club and SpongeBob--both of which overwhelm kids with subtle marketing and commercials for lots of useless junk.

I know full-well, that Thomas & Friends has an extensive line of tracks and trains (my kid even has a small box filled with the stuff). But I'm okay if he's hooked because the show is filled with lessons on good manners, hard work, compassion, and accepting responsibility. And his post-show desire to play with his trains does wonders for his fine motor skills and his imagination. Every time he puts that puzzle together, he ends up with a cool train-city that he created.

And after a long day of playing at the park with friends, painting pictures, and being carted from the grocery store and the Post Office, I don't mind if he gets to veg out a bit in front of the TV, complete with "eyes gazing blankly at the screen, jaws slack," as Laid-Off Dad put it. He certainly doesn't have a sedentary lifestyle--kids learn that from their parents. So 30 minutes of television every couple of days won't drain his imagination, his creativity, or his love of singing. In fact, he actually picks up new songs: "They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight...Shunting trucks and hauling freight…"

Permalink | Television | Comments (3)

Monday, October 10, 2005

I am no enemy of television as a medium. We have one that gets 2 billion channels through our digital cable package, and we watch it. A lot. But that’s for us, the adults, because we can use TV to stay informed and entertained. Or, after a day of putting Tab A in Slot B, we deserve the chance to flick the switch, turn the brain off, and Sponge Out.

And that’s exactly why I don’t want my kids watching a lot of TV. It’s a passive activity that ingrains a passive lifestyle. When I come home and ask my son what happened today, I don’t want to hear that Bob the Builder installed a ceiling joist or that Little Bear’s daddy went on a fishing trip. I want to hear original thoughts, conjured by his original, weird little mind. The weirder the better.

Have you ever looked at a 2-year-old watching TV? Their eyes gazing blankly at the screen, jaws slack, lids drooping like a catatonic. It’s sickening. All those developing brain cells, which should be in the gym pumping iron, are instead standing in the corner and bumping their heads against the wall.

Then there’s the commercial aspect of it. Our great consumer culture knows the best way to raise new generations of consumers is to get ‘em while they’re young. Therefore, a lot of kids’ shows exist solely so that kids will identify with the characters and nag their parents into buying residual plastic crap. The commercials are unrelenting—they’re even worming their way into PBS stations. 

A small minority of TV shows help kids learn how to think and do, but most of it teaches them how to do nothing and and want everything--a dangerous combination.

Permalink | Television | Comments (5)

If you look hard enough--or even not so hard--you will find studies or news reports that tell you television will turn your child into a bully, make them fat, have attention deficit issues, and have trouble interacting with parents or siblings, among other things.

But turns out that my mother let me watch two-and-a-half hours of television every weekday (gasp!) when I was a kid--one half hour of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and an hour of Sesame Street in the morning and another hour of Sesame Street in the afternoon. And look at me: I'm a functioning, well adjusted part of society.

I spend many hours setting up art projects, the wooden train set, and play dates. But sometimes I need Toddler in Chief to be out of my way for a full 30 minutes while I do something important, like make doctor appointments, sort the laundry without someone trying to make snowmen in the knee-high piles, or put away the groceries without little hands snatching the Ben & Jerry's and leaving it under the desk in the office to melt. Sometimes I need to do seemingly-unimportant things, like take a shower and blow dry my hair. Sometimes I just like a little privacy to sit on the toilet without inquiring minds wanting to know if, "Mommy poopy toilet?" And on especially wild days, I just need a quiet corner of the house without being treated like my son's personal jungle gym.

And whether you like it or not, television is just the trick.

Call me a bad mother. Call me inattentive. Call me lazy for not being creative enough to set up alternate, equally-engaging and fool-proof projects to keep my active toddler occupied for the necessary block of time.

I'm not condoning everything on TV because there is a lot of poison out there. My tele-sitter lands on commercial-free Noggin or recorded episodes of Thomas & Friends or Blue's Clues. I'm also not condoning endless hours of TV as a backdrop to our day (especially because it wouldn't serve as the proper sedative when I really needed it). Really, in a society where we barely know our neighbors, and our families are hundreds or thousands of miles away, we don't always have someone to lean on when we need a break. And in that instance, the TV is my friend.

Permalink | Television | Comments (8)