There's something wrong with this picture

Wally is lying in our bed right now watching Sesame Street. I have never seen him do this (lie down while awake except last July 9th when he was throwing up and glommed onto my mom). He's been there a good five minutes, totally comfortable with his head on the pillow and the blankets pulled up. I hope he's not sick while meanwhile I'm relieved thinking that he's finally learning to "regulate" his body, whatever that means. 

It's raining and I'm drinking this great cocoa coffee from Trader Joe's. I know it's not too great to be happy that my toddler is lying there like a sloth watching television, maybe not Worst Parent of the Year category, but far from best. And I've just been reading Susan Linn's The Case for Make Believe and Susan Gregory Thomas' Buy Buy Baby and all kinds of stuff on how terrible television is, especially for kids, how insidious, how Reagan deregulated children's media in 1984 making it okay for advertisers to target kids under 8. How now companies are targeting infants, starting to develop brand loyalty with newborns. How those licensed character toys don't allow kids to use their imaginations. Not to jump into an alarmist camp--I really don't think TV "in moderation" is all that bad, and even with Wally's bizarre youtube subway-train addiction it's nowhere near the American average (6 hours/day -- is that real?). I haven't seen the studies that led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend no TV before age 2 -- like I really don't know what it does to the brain, have no authority there. But I tend to think the dangers are mostly in what it takes away from (family time, reading, playing, relationships, physical activity). Still, taken together with over-scheduling, achievement fixations*  the widespread misconception that it's more dangerous now for kids to play outside than it was when we were growing up--it adds up to an assault on childhood. I hope that doesn't sound melodramatic. It really is horrifying the way big corporations have inserted themselves into schools by providing free resources using characters kids recognize in curriculum. They are now a major influence in education. Surely their best interests lie with their own bottom lines. As Susan Gregory Thomas points out, they are legally obligated to stockholders to put profits first. These are the people designing educational curriculum? I know I asked if the possibility that the universe might be infinite bothered anybody (it didn't seem to) but DOES THIS BOTHER ANYBODY?

What TV broadcasters want most, as David Foster Wallace points out in E Unibus Pluram: Television in U.S. Fiction, is not even for viewers to buy the sponsored products, but just to keep watching more TV. (He's not necessarily critical of TV, in fact he's rather impressed with its mastery of post-modern irony and self-conscious reflection. Read the essay, it's brilliant.) 

People designing educational curriculum want you to watch more TV. There's just something wrong with this picture. And there's something wrong with this picture here today--this quiet rainy Wednesday morning, hanging around in pajamas, drill sergeant conspicuously absent. Makes me think of one of those pictures where kids are supposed to circle rain falling down on only one person or the upside-down clock.

*Kristin told me that Susan Linn was the whisteblower who exposed Baby Einstein as a fraud.



  2. Unbelievable: on this same day of all days, worlds converging, colliding, in every way from beautiful to horrifying, I let Noli watch Sesame Street, for the first time in months (of course we somehow both did this!). I mostly allowed it because she let me snuggle with her under our quilt on the couch for all of 1.5 minutes, and that was heavenly. I noticed a few things: Gordon and Maria's faces reveal the time that has passed since the program's pre-licensing heyday, and they represent such a tangible bridge between the first and next gen Sesame. While apparently not interested in Little Creatures' work (I've asked), Sesame still produces live action segments complete with voiceover (who's making these things?), which drives home to me that I have no patent or copyright or claim to own the concept of kids' voiceover narration. And yet... Sesame's is scripted and well, boring/methodical/process/didactic, sorry to say. Where's the utter weirdness of children's language? Certainly not present in this broadcast bracket, or for that matter, anywhere else on American TV.

    As for the AAP and the studies, or lack thereof, check out Guernsey's Into the Minds of Babes, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Mary of was the one who told me about the CCFC/Harvard ouster, and she also made the point that if the academy of pediatrics had said "Hey, we haven't done all the research but from what we know so far, we really don't think your kids should be eating broccoli," would any parents be risking it?

    Amazing and inspiring, as always. But the converging thing, that is heavy stuff, and to be noted.

  3. I think I was a bit misleading -- I do let W watch TV for probably an hour pretty much every day. He doesn't usually show much interest, instead runs around and ultimately turns it off himself, except for youtube videos of real trains where I've seen him oddly transfixed for long stretches. Who takes all those? And now he's very specific -- wanting subway trains and specific ones. "I want the B train. I don't like the 2 train!" Now, if he's not that interested -- why do I turn it on? There is the rare occasion when he'll watch, and at least stay away from the kitchen or whatever I'm trying to do. I know those anti-media books say don't get into habit of letting kid watch so you can shower, etc. but I really couldn't figure out any other way.

    Much more to say in response to what you wrote but just to be honest that I'm not like you crafting and swirling around with scarves and homemade stuffed animals all day with him (wish I had been).

  4. I watched A TON of tv as a kid, and I ended up being a book editor, so I don't really believe people when they say tv makes you not read or think or wahtever (my mom also took me to the library practically every other the day, and I remember playing outside a lot too).

    I guess it won't be the same for our kids, raised in the age where TV IS BAD FOR YOU, but I always find a kinship with people who were raised on as much TV as I was. (Find someone who's also seen every episode of Full House and Family Ties and you've found a friend.) It's one of the biggest reasons I think one of my best friends and I are such good friends while being otherwise pretty different people.

  5. Katy thanks for that link. I added Commercial Free Childhood's 101 Screen-Free Activities to the News Feed at the top of the page. Are you doing it? Is anyone else planning to (go screen-free--not sure if that includes computer/iphone etc. or just TV. Oh I see it says "entertainment screen media".

    Jennifer Boudinot - You're definitely not one of those needy, deprived, my parents left me alone in front of the TV and bought me things and now I can't stop buying things unhappy over-consumers that Susan Gregory Thomas talks about in Buy Buy Baby. Are you the exception that proves the rule (and can someone tell me what that means exactly - I mean I know what it's supposed to mean, but why would an exception necessarily prove a rule/)


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