Although the American
Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger
than two years, most parents place their young children in front of the
tube from time to time anyway—and by the time kids reach preschool age,
many have their own favorite shows. But when writer Dade Hayes noticed
that his daughter was becoming increasingly addicted, he wondered about
the effects the multibillion-dollar preschool entertainment business
might be having on kids. In his book, “Anytime Playdate,” the author
talks to everyone from TV executives to pediatricians about the pros
and cons of so-called educational TV. Given the controversy surrounding
Walt Disney Company’s recent decision to offer refunds for its Baby
Einstein videos to parents not satisfied with the results, his thoughts
are especially timely.
a parent, it’s easy to use the TV as a babysitter, plopping your kids
in front of it when you need to take a break. What’s the harm in doing
that from time to time?
me, I have two kids, and it’s a lot to handle, so I can understand that
it’s only human nature to want a break. But I think you have to at
least be aware of whether the content your kids are watching is
developmentally appropriate. I’m alarmed by how many preschoolers are
watching High School Musical. I think you need to observe some kind of
distinction between content that’s fundamentally about who has a crush
on whom vs. content that is adding to a child’s development. It is hard
to be vigilant, but I think you start with something that’s designed
for the right age group and then you go further to whether you think
it’s a quality show.
Some experts say watching certain shows may actually help kids, say, for example, by increasing vocabulary
Street was really the forerunner of the current revolution—and taking
their inspiration from that, you have Disney, Nickelodeon, and several
other big producers of content that are pursuing it responsibly and
with the same kind of meticulousness that Sesame Street has. So you
have shows that are teaching language, that are teaching science, that
are really in a kind of nuanced way dealing with emotional intelligence
and social interaction. How do you teach a three-year-old to cope with
feelings of jealousy or controlling their temper—this is not easy stuff
to do, but there are more and more shows doing it, and there are
encouraging findings about those types of programs in appropriate doses
doing good things. Verbal cognition and vocabulary are definitely
higher according to certain studies after viewings of Dora the Explorer
or Blue’s Clues or Little Einsteins.
the same time, some psychologists and pediatricians warn us about the
dangers of kids watching too much TV. What did you find most alarming
in your research?
are 50 shows every day of the week that are targeting kids. There are
now two cable networks that are targeting viewers as young as six
months: BabyTV and BabyFirstTV. The book is called “Anytime Playdate”
because of the ubiquity of entertainment. I borrowed from a piece of
marketing that PBS Kids Sprout had sent out where they actually invited
kids to an “anytime playdate,” meaning that twenty-four/ seven, kids
could watch this channel and be with their virtual playmates, Angelina
the Dinosaur, etc. There’s something a little bit excessive to me about
that, and I think it’s worrisome that there is this kind of portability
that they’re designing for cell phones, for iPods, and for backseat TV.
I’m not against technology per se, but I think given the appetite on
the corporate side for more and more avenues, it’s something I’m really
think that part of the explosion around preschool entertainment is
linked to academic pressures on kids at an early age?
definitely do. I think it’s an interesting and anxiety-provoking time
to be raising kids. Here in Manhattan, we’re having this little baby
boom since 9/11, and there are kids four years old on tenterhooks
waiting to hear back from school. I think there is this myth that all
you need to do to open the golden gates to academic achievement and,
ergo, professional fulfillment and personal happiness is to buy a
certain DVD. Companies would never admit that they’re deliberately
manipulating anybody. Having spent time around hundreds of people in
this business, I didn’t meet a lot of crooked, shady people. They’re
believing in what they’re doing, but there is a kind of hot button that
they are deliberately pushing, which is if you want your child to
succeed, then you have to get them started early.
If there was one overall message that you wanted parents to take away from this book, what would it be?
the concept of moderation and media literacy to a preschooler is a
powerful thing. If you’re able to show that there are some good things
on TV and some not so good things, it is fine to watch for X amount of
time. Teaching them how to turn the TV off is important.
Dade Hayes recommends three programs for parents and kids to check out.
“SUPER WHY!” is
a terrific show on PBS. They call it a pre-literacy show, so a
four-year-old [hits] the bulls-eye. It’s really fun, colorful, great
animation. It makes the idea of books fun.
Winning and whimsical [with] hand-drawn animation, “PEEP AND THE BIG WIDE WORLD” on
Discovery Kids is supported by a grant from the National Science
Foundation. Simple looking and cartoonish in a very fun way, it teaches
rudimentary concepts of physics and biology.
“THE BACKYARDIGANS” is
very much about the music, and they take a different genre every
episode: rock, disco, etc. A couple of off-Broadway composers put it
together. The animation is fun, and it’s about these little kid-like
animals in their backyard that dream up different worlds to visit.