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The electronic box of enlightenment

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published March 13, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

Once upon a time, in a land long ago with only two broadcast channels that you had to get off the couch to change, there lived a sad little girl. Her family had a television – color, even! – but cartoons were confined to Saturday mornings and a half-hour weekday afternoons.

It was a miserable existence in a desolate land.

The child was forced to set up a play kitchen, from which she prepared scrumptious air cakes. In the summer, she and her friends were reduced to performing backyard concerts – complete with choreography and costumes — for afternoons on end. And as night fell, Red Rover would hold dozens of children hostage in front yards, the torture ending only when parents forced the pitiful creatures indoors.

I’m blessed that my children can be spared that. Here in the 21st century, we can worship The Electronic Box of Enlightenment around the clock.

For far too many today, television is the ultimate baby-sitter, pacifier and teacher. “Hang in there,” one mom told me as 2-month-old Big Guy wailed through colic. “He’ll be old enough soon to watch TV, and then you can go back to doing whatever you want.”

Big Guy was born too late. Now, kids can become television addicts before they can hold up their heads.

That’s thanks in part to BabyFirstTV, expanding to cable systems nationwide this year. It joins a growing marketplace of television for under 2: Walt Disney Co. (“Baby Einstein”), Sesame Workshop (“Sesame Beginnings”) and HBO (“Classical Babies”) are there already.

And here comes the American Academy of Pediatrics, claiming that children that young shouldn’t watch television. What do they know?

“We offer subtitles for parents to suggest ways that you can interact with your baby during the programs, whether it’s counting together or singing the ABCs,” the BabyFirstTV Web site gushes. What in the name of Dr. Seuss is going on? We need subtitles to tell us how to “interact” with our children?

“To help your toddler begin to develop a life-long love of learning, Disney and the Baby Einstein Company is (sic) creating an all-new collection of DVDs,” boasts another Web site.

We had something like that when I was a kid. It was called a book.

“Parents and caregivers will seize upon concrete examples of how to turn everyday routines into special moments,” brags a promotion for a Sesame Beginnings DVD.

They want concrete examples: I have plenty.

I’ve seen a 5-year-old, one with a bedroom TV since age 1, sit to the side at a party and watch children play, as if they were another show on a screen.

I’ve watched an active pre-schooler develop a paunch by second grade, as outdoor play gave way to video games.

I’ve heard a parent boast about languages learned from “Dora the Explorer” and “Lilo and Stitch.” Apparently saying “delicioso” makes a child fluent in Spanish.

It’s not as if Big Guy never watches TV – though Little Guy doesn’t, beyond stray glances. It can be a tool – and, yes, a baby-sitter when I need 20 minutes of “Franklin the Turtle” so I can get lunches packed. But that’s strictly a short-term thing. It’s not their be-all and end-all, all day, every day.

TV pushers claim that research isn’t definitive on the long-range impact of too much electronics at too young an age. While that could be true – there’s yet to be a generation that’s been as exposed as today’s youngsters – I really don’t need more research. I believe what I see, and what I see is deeply disturbing.

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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