Will Your Kid Be An Outcast If They Don’t Watch TV?
June 10, 2010 · Posted in Media, Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink

dora_the_explorer-5238Dora Who?: On Raising a Weirdo

by Bethany Saltman

I was listening to the radio the other day and the uber intellectual Susan Jacoby was being interviewed about her new book, The Age of American Unreason, which is essentially yet another book outlining how Americans have become so illiterate. She was discussing the section of her book which dealt with the so-called educational toys and videos for babies and toddlers and how they are being so overused and abused that research has shown that children who are overexposed to these forms of “entertainment” actually develop vocabulary less readily than other children. This is not particularly new or noteworthy. What I found surprising was how she then commented breezily that people may assume she is some kind of weirdo who thinks children shouldn’t watch any television or videos. And of course, she laughed, she doesn’t believe that. She then went on to describe her own personal TV usage and how difficult it was for her to experiment not watching any during National Turn off the TV Week.

As I listened to her talk, I thought of the last time I visited the doctor with Azzie. As usual, Shirley, the super-friendly receptionist, offered her a sticker for being such a trooper. “Do you want Dora?” she asked. Azalea was blank. She nodded politely. Whatever you think about TV, cartoons and consumerism, can’t we at least give our kids a little breathing room? Can’t we at least ask if kids know who Dora is? For some reason, the idea of questioning the assumption of media-generated childhood connections is very disturbing to even the most educated  and well-intentioned people. Take my in-laws, for instance. When I was pregnant, we told them we were quite happy to remain tv-less, and they reacted as though we were planning on getting rid of our indoor plumbing. Both of my in-laws are hyper-smart Ivy-league trained physicians. These are not media-junkies! But something about the idea of keeping children away from mass-culture makes people uncomfortable. Last time we left Azalea with said in-laws for the day, a Sesame Street DVD was placed, front and center, on their agenda. What is this? Of course we didn’t say anything. We may be OK with raising a weirdo, but we want her to be a well-adjusted weirdo, and arguing over a couple of hours of Big Bird is just silly.

Of course there is no escape from pop culture — and, alright already, it’s not all bad! —  just as there is no escape from cancer-causing chemicals and artificial growth hormones. But that’s no reason to hook the kids up to pesticide pumps and say, well, this is how I was raised, and I turned out ok (and who do we know is really, by the way, ok?).

The truth of the matter is this: we don’t have a TV. I guess this really does make us strange. We live in the woods and go throw rocks into the river for fun. Literally. But Thayer and I love to download LOST episodes and watch them on Friday nights. And we work out to Tony Horton DVDs as often as possible (AB Ripper, Yeaahh!!!). And a couple weeks ago, Azalea was the sickest she’s ever been with a super-high fever and no interest in anything but lying on my lap. So what did I do? I called my friend and asked to borrow some DVDs. We watched those. Then I found Harold and The Purple Crayon on You Tube, and we watched that. Then we sat through Malti Malti from the Dan Zanes website at least 20 times. And I offered poor little Azzie ginger ale and nilla wafers, wanting her to eat something, anything!  She slept on the couch for the first time ever. It was all, actually, really sweet, a kind of nostalgic reenactment of what was tender in my own childhood.

Then the fever broke.

For a couple days after the sick-spell, Azalea asked to watch “bideos,” and I just no. “But we can listen to music,” I said.

“Ok,” she said. And now she doesn’t even ask.

Checking out of TV land is really not a big deal. But it sure does make a difference.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, April 25, 2008.

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  1. christine
    July 4th, 2010 | 3:39 am

    Bravo for you. Watchintg tv changes the way the children process information. Read Endangered Minds by Judith Healy and feel good about your tv less decision.

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