When I gave birth, I immediately read up on baby brains. I read everything from T. Berry Brazelton’s The Earliest Relationship to Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe to prepare for parenthood. While many ideas on child development were held constant by all experts, one rule was set in stone: exposing kids under the age of two to television will stunt their verbal and social development.
Experts offer plenty of arguments against TV. See Evidence A, Evidence B, and Evidence C. A few years ago, Disney even began offering refunds to parents that had purchased Baby Einstein DVDs and Blu-Rays once analysts proved they offered absolutely no educational value.
There’s a massive social stigma against letting your kid watch shows. People jump to the assumption that you’re letting television raise your children. Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason hypothesizes that children’s media consumption will have a crippling effect on our society’s intelligence. She writes that past generations had an advantage because they had to rely on their imaginations to entertain themselves, while the kids of today have prepackaged media spoon-fed to them. Her argument makes sense.
On the other hand, parents today are a lot more interactive than they used to be. Sure, a hundred years ago parents didn’t park their kids in front of Fraggle Rock while they cleaned the house. But they didn’t do half the activities that are common today. It was uncommon for parents to take toddlers to playgroups, or read them armloads of stories, or take them to the park on a daily basis. Many societies had their kids working in factories when they were six for chrissakes. See Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. At the very least, they were working on the family farm. Babies were left sitting in a crib, staring at a wall, with nothing but a rattle to entertain them.
The modern concepts of childhood and teenage-hood are relatively new. Likewise, the concept of babies/toddlers having dynamic, fast paced brains is new. Modern children are mentally stimulated in ways they weren’t in past generations, and this stimulation is the product of effort made by their primary caregivers. The cost is that caregivers put diversified efforts into parenting and end up tiring themselves out. This is where entertainment aids like TV or computers come in handy.
Plus, human fascination with flashy lights is in our blood. We went millions of years staring at fires and stars for entertainment. Now we are mostly indoors-humans (especially if we’re babies in an urban area), but that primitive urge to look into a fire is still inside us. End Result: we stare at the flashing, bright TV.
If you’re going to leave your kid on his/her own for a while, is it really that bad to have Reading Rainbow on? As long as people understand that the program is for entertainment and is not an educational tool we’re good. It’s when people start placing their kid in front of a TV with the belief that it will do a superior job teaching them than a person that we’re in trouble.
With all this said, I’m going to make a confession. My kid and I watch TV shows and movies together. Secondary confession: sometimes I watch kid stuff on my own. Starting this week we will debut Throwing Popcorn, a once-a-month post about all things kid’s shows and movies.