• Too Tuned In?

    Children Are Watching An Unprecedented Number Of TV Shows Made Just For Them. Author Dade Hayes Explains How This Happened And What Parents Should Worry About

    By New York Family

    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.

    As
    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?

    Believe
    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

    Sesame
    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.

    At
    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?

    There
    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
    Ballerina,

    Barney
    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
    wary of.

    Do you
    think that part of the explosion around preschool entertainment is
    linked to academic pressures on kids at an early age?

    I
    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?

    Teaching
    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.

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