Monday, October 26, 2009

Television is not the root of all evil and stupidity.

NEWS FLASH: Television done did made you're kidz stoopid.

Er...stupid.

You know, dumb as a box of rocks. A few sandwiches short of a picnic. The dimmest bulb on a Christmas tree. The dullest knife in the drawer.

I am warning you! If your kids watch television, especially before the age of two, you might as well forget college. Or high school for that matter. You'll be lucky if they make it through grade school.

And it's all your fault.

Okay. To clarify here, I'm talking about the recent news story that Disney is being sued for asserting that "Baby Einsteins" will make your kid a smartie.

They are offering coupons for Disney products, or up to $15.99 per video (up to 4 videos) if you want to return your Baby Einstein videos because...gasp...the video did not turn your kid into a genius. (For more info, click here.)

And to think that the "Baby Einsteins" videos were all part of our retirement plan. Bill and I bought the videos thinking that our kids would enter college at the age of 8, and then become a famous doctor/scientist/mega-genius who would support Bill and I into our old age.

Darn you, Baby Einsteins. I feel so used. So violated. So misled.

Do you remember the Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update with Seth and Amy" segment simply called, "Really?"

That's what comes to mind when I think of this topic.

Really? You really thought that a videotape could make your kid smarter?

Really? You might swim in the shallow end of the brain pool yourself, but you thought, "Mmmmkay. I'll just buy this here video, and Junior's gonna git into Harvard. 'Cuz it says so right here on the box. Even though it doesn't say so on the box. But the name has Einstein in it, and he was smart, so it must be so."

Really? You really thought that you could just plunk your kid in front of the TV for hours, with no interaction, and that was a good thing?

I am not questioning the validity of this lawsuit against Disney and Baby Einstein. I am not a lawyer. Perhaps there was a point to this class-action lawsuit. Perhaps somewhere along the way, maybe they did imply that if your child watched this video, his I.Q. would soar. Perhaps.

But doesn't this really come down to an issue of common sense as parents? And aren't we smarter than that?

What's next? Are we going to sue the makers of footballs and baseballs because they are making our children believe that they will grow up to be professional athletes?

Darn you, Louisville Slugger. There goes our other retirement plan.

Personally, I love the Baby Einstein videos. They were all the rage back in 2000, when I had my first child, Charlie. The concept is so simple, yet so entertaining. The music is sweet and soft, and the images on the screen are of little toys, or a picture of an animal, along with the word. They even have a video teaching them words from different languages.

I can still picture my little babies happily kicking their feet as they lay on the floor, propped up by a Boppy pillow, watching the video, or eating Cheerios in their Exer-Saucer while the images flashed on the screen.

It's now deep, dark, confessions time. I let my kids watch TV before the age of two. I also let them watch Baby Einstein videos. And...brace yourself...I occasionally let the television babysit (if that's what they're calling it) one or more of my children while I made a phone call, cooked dinner, or just needed a moment or two to regain my sanity.

Here's the worst part: I don't regret any of it for a single second.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long cited statistics that say that TV can be linked to hyperactivity, lack of focus, and trouble with language. I have no reason to doubt many of these statistics. I trust the AAP. But I also think that with every statistic, there are many uncontrollable factors there that come into play.

For example, for every 2-year old that watched television, and knew less vocabulary words than the non-TV-watching 2-year old, what was their environment like? Was the TV on all day, or just at intermittent times with great, high-quality programming like Sesame Street, Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer? Did the child also play outside at some point during the day? Did the child make a trip to the grocery store with a parent who talked with them about what they were buying, as in, "Look at the red apples Mommy is putting in the cart! Do you want to help Daddy find the orange cheese crackers?" Did that child have siblings to interact with? When the TV was off, was the child playing with blocks, puzzles and other toys? Did the child ever listen to music in the kitchen with Mom and have dance parties while they emptied the dishwasher together or set the kitchen table? Did they also take walks outside to talk about nature? Did they ever make a trip to the zoo?

Because my children did all of the above and more, aaaaaaand they watched TV. They still do.

And I would like to believe that none of them is a babbling idiot.

I try really hard to be a good parent. I strive to be creative, I want stimulate my kids' brains by taking them fun places, and doing things with them. But I am also a realist. I believe in certain things in moderation. And TV is one of them. (Candy is another. But that's a different topic for another day. Halloween is coming and I will let them eat junky, trashy, sugary, yummy candy. Just not all of it at once.)

If you are a mother who does not let their child watch any television at all, I am not trying to convince you to do as I say. However, I am very curious, and maybe somewhat in awe of you. How do you do it? How do you take a long car trip to Virginia Beach without a video or two? How do you fold and put away those five loads of laundry without the assistance of "Dinosaur Train"? How do you make that important phone call without seeking the help of Steve or Joe from "Blue's Clues"? How do you not go insane without a few moments of your children sitting in silence on the couch at least once in awhile?

I know so many wonderful moms. These are women who are caring, whom I admire, whom I look to for advice with this job. And every single one of them lets their child watch TV occasionally. And every single one of them is smart enough to know that a video will not turn their child into a genius. But we do know that high-quality television is not bad for our kids either.

The other day I was shopping at Target with Annabel, and we were looking at toys to buy George for his birthday. She really wanted to check out what was on the end-cap at the end of the aisle, but I was still busy looking at the toys in the middle. "Come on, Mom!" she begged. "Let's go Mom! Vamonos!"

Vamonos? Did Annabel just say, "Vamonos?" Yes she did! And she did not get that from me. She got it from Dora. And she used it in the right context too! See? Television can't be all bad, right?

But that said, I will still not allow television and videos to be my constant babysitter. My kids wouldn't allow it either. They like to play with toys too much. Besides, isn't interaction with our kids the key to stimulating their brains? The best parents talk to their kids, take them places, play with them, go outside with them, and even...gasp...watch television programs with their kids. How can that interaction with kids be all negative? I don't think it can.

However, I'm still a sucker for a deal, and $15.99 for up to four videos? I'll take it.

Maybe I'll use the money to take the kids to a museum.

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