Be Creative Instead of Watching Television

My friend Pam (whose email signature is the title of this post) just sent me this article about a group called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) who has filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission against BabyFirstTV. Basically, BabyFirstTV markets their channel to parents as being educational to babies and children under 2, but the CCFC says there's no evidence that TV is beneficial for babies. This seems like a no-brainer to me. I don't care how "educational" a TV program claims to be; you can't convince me that plopping a baby in front of a television is going to teach him/her anything about
"creative thinking, math, sensory skills, language, creative play," (they actually claim this) and don't even get me started on the idea that a TV program can teach a kid "social skills."

Don't get me wrong. I liked shows like Square One and Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street (ahh PBS), but I wasn't watching them at the age of one or two, either. I might have been 4 or 5 and a little older when I watched those programs. My parents probably weren't under any illusions that those shows were teaching me things I wasn't already learning from them or in school. They also had a strict limit of an hour of television allowed per day for me and my brother, and some shows we weren't allowed to watch at all. I remember trying to make a case for watching "Thundercats" when I was about 7 (I'm not proud of that), but that was a no go (it was deemed too violent).

The first few weeks of Daniel's life, he nursed constantly; during that time I watched TV occasionally, just so I wouldn't go loony with boredom. I rented the first season of "Desperate Housewives" and it was perfect for those long winter days when it felt like all I was doing was nursing and rocking, nursing and rocking. (As far as I'm concerned, anything goes in the first six weeks!) But since Daniel's been more alert and able to see farther, we have the TV off, only turning it on after he's in bed to watch DVDs of "Futurama" or reruns of "The Office."

I'm not saying television will be completely verboten in our house. Seeing as Stuart and I watch TV from time to time, that would be a tad hypocritical, no? But there will certainly be limits.
1) We'll never get cable. As far as I'm concerned it's a waste of money and time, though I wouldn't get cable even if it were free, just on principle. (I didn't have cable growing up, either. When I was in eighth grade, the kids in my class made fun of me because I didn't watch MTV. I got over it.)
2) There will be no TV in anyone's bedroom. Do I even need to explain why?
3) There will be a time limit on how much television is allowed to be watched, maybe a half hour, maybe an hour. I'll know when the time comes to set those limits.
4) There will be some restrictions on what programs are watched. Will I let my 5-year-old watch a show like CSI? Absolutely not. Saturday morning cartoons? Maybe. But not all of Saturday morning.

Now, I realize I'm being all naive and idealistic, but my hope is to raise children who are creative in entertaining themselves, who are interactive in their play, and who are aware of, but not steeped in, the consumer culture of America. Now, to practice what I preach, I should get away from this computer screen and go play with my baby!


Lydia said…
THis really isn't a comment about the case for watching t.v. or not, just a funny about a little kid I know who was watching t.v. the "obvious" way one time.

Jake was 1 and his parents t.v. was above the fireplace in the living room. Directly across from the t.v., on the wall was a huge magnolia painting (yes, they're from the deep south)with a glass cover on it. When the t.v. was turned on, Jake sat down on the hearth and looked up above the couch and watched the t.v.'s reflection on the painting. It was quite amusing!
Becca said…
CJ is pretty oblivious to the TV. Here's the thing--if you don't plunk them down in front of it repeatedly, they'll largely ignore it.

From what I've read, there are two things that greatly influence a child's learning ability during the first two years--the first is music. Not necessarily classical, but if so, the real stuff, not the watered down Baby Einstein. We talked to a child speech pathologist who is vehement against Baby Einstein--she called it the entertainment equivalent of junk food.

The second is human voice interaction. Not LeapFrog, but actually reading and talking to your child so they get the hang of vocal patterns, inflections, emotions, and body language. This same speech pathologist (we met her at Logan Airport waiting for a delayed flight, and she amused herself by watching CJ then striking up a conversation with is) was very impressed with him. He was 13 months old, but he watched us as we spoke, followed the conversation, and tried to participate with his "words". She said from watching him, it was obvious we talked to him a lot.

So, a little TV here and there as you watch it won't hurt him at all. But yeah, no plunking down. Encourage his sense of imaginative, independent play, and you won't need videos to buy time to do something else.
Jenn Hacker said…
Empty cardboard boxes provide all the fun and entertainment a kid needs. They provide literally hours of endless fun, and can be "converted" into anything the child wants!
Suze said…
Thanks, Becca. I wouldn't even think of plunking him down in front of the TV. However, a couple weeks ago, we had the TV on because there was a tornado warning in our county (Dane county is huge, and the tornado wasn't in Madison), and we wanted to see its progress. Daniel was riveted by the Dopplar Radar, probably because it was so colorful. That's the only TV he's watched, though.

I've heard a lot about Baby Einstein, some good some bad. I don't intend to spend any of my money on it, I promise you. I just can't believe there are parents out there who would pay for a TV channel for babies and think it was actually beneficial to their children.

Because music is what I DO, I guarantee Daniel will get (does get, rather) lots of exposure to music. He comes with me when I practice, he's just in the next roon when I'm teaching, I sing to him all the time, and I have music on at home occasionally. So there's that.
Tooz said…
You ALL sound so virtuous--avoid TV, no junk food, only classical music--Just wait. I remember a little kid who would come in from the backyard and say, "Time for Jeopardy sing-song", and he was right--it was time for Jeopardy. And music--I remember a kid whose favorite song was Muffin Man. And ME--when I want to get all nostalgic, I either listen to black gospel (my grandparents had a black church behind their house) or "Tennessee Waltz". Someone who would probably prefer to remain nameless really used to like country music.
Becca said…
I used to really like country music. I didn't know there was any other kind till I moved to Sadieville and Mandi introduced me to Purple Rain. That was a shock.

I am far from virtuous with my son...wait, that didn't sound right. I'll try again. CJ watches TV, he just doesn't pay attention to it unless it's Alton Brown or MythBusters. He dances to the Good Eats theme songs and laughs when Adam Savage hurts himself. Otherwise, he doesn't really care what's on--oh, except for Oobi, but we don't watch Oobi much because Oobi creeps Mommy out.

And as for junk food, I'm not averse to giving my kid the occasional cookie, popsicle, bite of ice cream, or snack crackers, as long as he eats his meals.

That reminds me! Suze, I read an article last year about babies and solids, and the US is the only country that blands down the baby diet to starchy, tasteless foods. It would also seem to be leading our kids to obesity. So I took a trick from other cultures and I feed CJ what we eat, without omitting garlic, cumin, chili powder, green chiles, whatever. As a result, I have a kid who is not picky at all, and it saves me a ton of time in the kitchen. The article was on Yahoo if you want to look for it. Basically, all the stuff in What to Expect the First Year about steaming chicken breasts, cutting off all the fat, no butter or salt, etc. is bunk. CJ's doc says butter is essential as his age, and give him as much as I can.
annalu alulu said…
that's huge news about the baby food, becca, and i'm thankful to hear it. i've done a little research in obesity and learned that one reason people get fat is they eat tasteless food and are never satisfied and deprive themselves all the time, etc.
Jenn Hacker said…
Oobi creeps Mommy out? So I take it you found the Oubliette scene in Labyrinth (where she falls down the hole and is assisted by the "helping hands" creeped you out, too - or am I the only one who knows what the heck I'm talking about?)
mamacita said…
Speaking on the subject of playing with babies without buying your kid tons of toys... I've got this great book called Baby Play that is cholk-full of great games that mostly use stuff around your house. They also have a Toddler's Play book.
Suze said…
what a conversation we've got going!

tooz, i'm not a classical elitist, which anyone might think, given my chosen career. we actually don't listen to classical music that much at home, unless it's repertoire i'm working on that i need to study. we listen to plenty of other stuff: bela fleck is awesome, radiohead (lots of radiohead), a bit of paul simon and jazz and U2 and other things. I don't think classical music is the only valid stuff out there. far from it, in fact. sometime i'll post about the problems of classical music elitism...

as far as foods, i'm right there with you, becca. right now we're trying just the rice cereal (which is bland and starchy), but daniel's only 4 months old and isnt' mature enough to digest anything else. but i don't want to "bland down" food for him. we may not be starting off with jalapenos, but i don't see why we should avoid spices and flavors. i ate hot, hot food all the way through pregnancy, after all. let's just hope he takes to it!
Suze said…
oh, and mamacita, i meant to say thanks for the book recommendation. i'll definitely look for it at the library.

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