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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

television for toddlers

I've considered posting about this topic before; with this interesting article from today's NYT, I have the perfect opportunity. Television is mostly crap, but when the pediatric establishment mindlessly declares "no television for children under two years of age" and parents are supposed to accept this bit of wisdom unquestioningly, I get pissed off.
WASHINGTON, May 24 — Sure, Sharae Sharp knows pediatricians say children under 2 should not watch TV. But the advice feels less than practical when she needs to scrub the bathroom floor or has a migraine and is craving an hour of silence.

"Sometimes you just need some time," said Ms. Sharp, 29, unapologetic about the 13-inch television she placed in her 3-year-old-daughter Taelor-Shanel's room more than a year ago.

Jennifer Beck-Wilson, 36, tends to agree with the Academy of Pediatrics. But with a 3-year-old son, a 15-month-old daughter and a full-time job, best intentions fall by the wayside. "There's my philosophy and then there's real life," she said.

The two are hardly alone. A new study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, in which both participated, found that despite increasing debate over the potentially harmful effects of television on young children, many parents believe that the benefits of a little tube time — whether for their children's development or their own sanity — outweigh the risk of raising a generation of crib potatoes...

...Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said savvy pitches for products like BabyFirst TV and the Baby Einstein line of educational videos and DVD's have convinced parents that fixation on television is educational for young children, even though little research has been devoted television's effect on infants and toddlers.

"The notion of sustained attention for many parents is a point of pride," he said. "Parents absolutely believe the marketing lines for these products, when the fact is that there is no real evidence yet of learning benefits."
OK, fine...but where's the evidence that it harms the child? Hmmm? Why shouldn't the burden of proof be on you so-called "experts" who constantly whine on about how nobody under the age of two should ever be allowed to watch television and anyone who allows their child to do so is a bad, bad parent?

These "experts" never seem to have anything negative to say about older children watching all the stupid sitcoms on television with moronic plots and endless sexual references; that doesn't bother them. But God forbid should you allow your infant or toddler to watch some animal puppets with Mozart playing in the background!

We've allowed our kids to watch all the Baby Einstein videos, and no, it won't turn them into Einsteins, but if nothing else, the classical music they absorb won't do them any harm. We also allow our two and a half year old daughter to watch certain shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Kipper. She's definitely picked up some vocabulary from them.

I think part of the problem is that these "experts" can't distinguish between medium and content. What's the harm of educational materials being presented on a television screen? Books, music, toys, arts and crafts, and yes, even television can simulatneously entertain and educate a child, as long as you pick the right ones.

True, kids shouldn't be allowed to develop the habit of vacantly staring into a TV screen for hours on end, but no TV before the age of two? Gimme a break.

One more thing - I've noticed that DVR technology can really help us limit our kids' television exposure to the shows we want them to watch. We can record two new episodes of Dora a day (our toddler's current favorite), which keeps her happy. No more turning on the television before the show starts and leaving it on after it's over, mindlessly watching whatever else is surrounding the program of interest; you just watch what you want to watch. That goes for adults too, of course. Rather than encouraging more TV watching, the DVR simply encourages more intelligent TV watching (not to mention that you can zip through the ads so easily).

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