TV for babies

I read an article in the Boston Globe saying that France has banned television aimed at children under the age of 3 years of age.  Personally, I give this news three cheers because I am offended by the whole “tv/dvds for babies” racket.

I loathe baby einstein and its ilk, which I consider one of the greatest frauds ever perpetuated on the parenting community.   Not three months ago, I laughed in the face of a Motherhood Maternity salesgirl who tried to sell me some screwed up product that I could strap to my stomach which would then “use the sound of heartbeats to teach your infant” unspecified skills but would definitely MAKE HER SMART.

For those not in the know, I’m not just blowing hot air.  From the August 2007 issue of Time Magazine, the following quote is from this article.

Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Christakis. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.”

I may not yet be a mom, and my experience with small infants is limited to several years of babysitting, but even I know that babies find damn near everything interesting.  Want to stop a five month old from crying?  Hand her a scrunchie.  When that stops working, try your keys.  They’re not exactly discerning customers.

The very idea that babies are potential consumers is ludicrous, yet so very American of us.

While Emby may not watch ZERO minutes of tv before she’s 2 or 3, none of those minutes will be deliberate.  I don’t know that there will never be five minutes, or even a half an hour when I’m holding her and I might not want to put the Daily Show or the Simpsons or Ace of Cakes or whatever on in the background.  But I’ll keep her facing away from the tv as much as I can (not knowing much about how this whole breastfeeding thing will work) and I will never plop her down and say “here, watch tv.”  I can possibly see around age 2ish starting to do a daily tv show like the old Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow, but that’s because at that age she might be a pre-reader and those shows are valuable for that sort of content.

I’m not actually anti-media.  In my old classroom, I had my own laptop and projector constantly set up so that I could pull website content, video clips, add in 5 minutes from a dvd to add to class content.  We are a media focused culture, and it’s a bit naive to think I can shield Emby from that.  But there’s a point where media is useful and when it’s a harmful form of pacifier.  There’s a balance to be struck, and it’s one I’m sure we will struggle with as both the husband and I are readers and always have been, but have also both always been fairly big fans of television.  It feels a bit hypocritical to tell my (future) 8 year old that she can only have 1 hour of television a day when I was watching close to 3 or 4 on any given day (and reading another 2+, including during commercials back in the dim dark days prior to tivo).

I just don’t see the value of television for babies other than a way to scam parents out of money because we’re all so fucking anxious about our child being smart or ready or whatever.  Like many other scams, Baby Eistein and their competitors are preying on us because we’re scared, and they’re assuming we’re inexperienced enough to buy their message.

The truth is that many people seem to have babies without learning anything about them.  I have a friend who is a pediatrician, and she told me that she has seen parents not be able to take their baby home because they don’t have a car seat, or that they HAVE to take home the hospital outfit because they haven’t bought any clothes yet.  I thought she was just yanking my chain until she outlined exactly how often she has seen this, which then just frightened me.

Parents who don’t inform themselves are a company like Baby Einstein’s wet dream.  Because they’re not educated, and haven’t read the APA’s statement that television under the age of 2 is to be avoided, they’ll buy a slick advertising scheme.  What shocks me is how many people of my own level of education and socioeconomic class also bought into it, and that a year after being discredited, I see Baby Einstein shit EVERYWHERE.

On principle, I have made it clear that not only are the videos not welcome in my home, but NOTHING made by Baby Einstein is to be bought for Emby.  If bought, it will be returned.  If I can’t return it, I’ll throw it out rather than donate it to charity.

What blew my mind in the Boston Globe article is that there are at least TWO cable networks aimed specifically at children under the age of 3.  The CEO of BabyFirst TV had the following to say about this sort of programming…

“One of reasons we created BabyFirstTV is that we thought there was no good programming for babies on TV, and according to the research that is out there, most of the babies are watching TV anyway,” he said.

Call me a jaded experienced consumer, but I see the little dollar signs dancing in his eyes and a huge black hole where his heart used to be.  Sort of like the grinch at the start of the cartoon version of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Let us revisit that babies think ANYTHING you wave in front of their faces is exciting.  Good programming?  Are you freaking kidding me?  There’s absolutely no difference in what’s going on in my baby’s brain were I to put her in front of MTV, CNN, C-SPAN, or BabyFirst.  She’s being deprived of valuable interaction that will stimulate her brain and develop her language centers.

That anyone buys this shit only proves that we are a gullible gullible nation.

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