Thursday, January 12, 2006

What we show our children affects their brains - (and their minds!)

I just finished reading an article in Time magazine about videos that claim to make babies smarter. You know the ones, Baby Einstein and Baby Einstein ripoffs. The article claims that science has been questioning whether or not these videos do any good and has found compelling evidence to suggest that they may even do harm!

Harm? You ask astonished. Yes, harm! Apparently the latest on babies and TV is that they shouldn't see any TV whatsoever before the age of 2! They have found that the more kids watch TV before 2, the more likely they are to have ADD. They also suggest that the videos aren't really teaching them anyway. That, let's say you give your English-speaking kid a video to help it learn Spanish. Apparently studies have shown that babies who watch videos geared toward teaching them a foreign language show no recognition of that language. The only method they found that did show some recognition of language by Baby was if they had a speaker of that foreign language spend regular play time with Baby, several times a week. Other lessons? Numbers, colors, words? The article states that your tot is merely memorizing responses not the actual numbers, colors, and words.


I have long been interested in the science of film and child development since learning in a film class that babies don't actually understand what they see when edits occur. They learn that at some point down the road. But what point?

More recently I have been interested in the ideological function of cinema and what we teach our children about the world through cinema. Let's face it, I know a lot more about love and life through film and television than my parents or my friends ever gave me. I have a friend who has several younger sisters. Ever since the youngest was a toddler, this friend has tried to teach her baby sis that she should never rush to bind herself to one guy. She should date around first and never get too tied down. Until, of course, the time was right. When she was a young teen and finally started dating, this little sister astonished my friend by getting herself a boyfriend. When asked why she wasn't dating around instead (she, of course, being still too young to be with just one guy) she said, "Oh, I can't do that, it's wrong to date more than one guy." How..., whuh...? My friend couldn't understand it. She was fairly certain her parents hadn't been telling baby sis to stick with one guy.

"Disney," I told her, "Disney." Disney is the most powerful molder of young minds out there. It doesn't matter what you teach your kids. If they get a healthy dose of Disney, that's what they learn. Of course some parents & peers are strong enough to outshine Disney, otherwise we wouldn't have rampant racism in the world. Or would we? I mean, we are so conditioned to seeing racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of bigotry in our media, and our lives, it is impossible to to escape. We can't help but create negative images of people of color, other cultures, and women. And when we see them, we are so used to seeing them that way, it doesn't seem wrong. Take Robots, for instance. (Fresh on the brain, we were watching it last night.) First you have the clingy, irrational mom at the beginning, then you have a male villain, who isn't really a male villain so much as a pawn of his overbearing, frightening, powerful, (and very masculine) mother. Thankfully the semi-villain wasn't codified as being homosexual because nearly all his counterparts are (think Psycho, and if you don't think he's codified as homosexual, revisit the movie.) Still, harm is done with this representation of women. They are needy & clingy, or when they have power, they destroy everything.

You don't think other kids' movies think so negatively of women? Revisit 101 Dalmations (and all its spin-offs), Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Pete's Dragon, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, The Emperor's New Groove, the list goes on! Females are generally either young, idealized victims, or old, power-hungry, evil hags. (And those are just some of the Disney movies, what about the ones from all the other studios? Think they are any different?)

It's impossible to escape the ideological influence these movies have on our kids, but we adore them still. How can we deprive our babes of seeing these movies that we love so?

And how do you keep a kid under 2 from seeing TV? Wouldn't we then also have to stop watching during those first 2 years? Ugh! That's hard!

Back to the full blog...


Colleen said...

Oh this is funny! I read the article in Time also and here's the thing - Pierce loved the Baby Einstein dvds! I never bought them with the intention that they would build his brain or anything, he just liked the Farm ones and the Neptune water one and the one about about the planets. He just liked watching them and honestly, if you can put in a dvd so you can run downstairs and deal with the laundry without the baby having a major cow fit well then - you put in the movie! Ha! As for if it fries his brain or not, well my brother and I were raised in the tv generation and we turned out okay. Now Pierce (he's 4) loves Scooby Doo, everything on the Animal Planet Channel and stuff like the Jetsons. He's not such a huge fan of Disney, unless you count Toy Story 1 & 2 which we have seen 10,000 times at least! He likes Kiki's Delivery Service as far as movies, but I think that one is sweet and cute as well.

I have often wondered why a parent always has to die (or be dead) in the world of Disney. Too weird.

So there you have it - your cousin is officially frying her kid's brain! ha! (Don't tell your parents, they still have a decent opinion of me and I'd hate to shatter it! ha!)

Elisabeth said...

Yeah, I mean, I was raised on TV too, but "turned out ok" is a relative term. I have long had serious focus issues. I don't know if they are ADD-related or something else altogether, but I can tell you they interfere with my ability to function in life greatly.

I have been under the assumption for a few years now that the reason that there has been a huge increase in ADD in children over the last decade or so is because of the appauling nutritional care that is widely given to children. One need only to stand in line at Sam's Club to know what I am talking about. Parents with several little tots have a huge cart (or even two) of cheetohs, whole milk, sugary cereals, candy. No fresh fruits or veggies. Nothing healthy!

Though my mother vehemently denies it, I was given a sandwich, a pickle, and either pop tarts or a twinkie to school every day, as I was growing up. When I came home, I would snack on either instant Lipton's Iced Tea and Pringles, or whole milk and Doritoes. For dinner I often insisted on Ramen noodles or Kraft macaroni & cheese. For breakfast for years it was Honey Nut Cheerios, which isn't that bad, but then later is was Fruit Loops, which is. When so many people worry about what kind of fuel they put into their cars, how can you not think that the kind of fuel you put into your body has an effect on your body's functionality?

But now, I buy this TV thing too. I mean, the reasons they suggested for ADD developing in TV-watching babies makes perfect sense. (Has to do with making their focus shift rapidly, and shift from what's in the room to the TV and back and forth.) And we are talking babies here, the studies show that kids under the age of 2 are affected in this way, presumably because their brains are in such a major developmental stage. If these studies were halfway reliable, I would absolutely follow what they say if I ever have kids, but they aren't! I am sure you could find studies that show that lots of stimulation (like TV) promotes brainy babies.

I do believe that something has changed in our world that causes more focus problems and emotional problems. (Among other things). And I fully believe that something we do during our kids' formative years is affecting this. Whether it's pullution, or TV, or nutrition, or some combination, I don't know. They need to do a study to see if these same parents live in heavily polluted areas, or if they are more likely to feed their kids poorly.

A lot of parents give the laundry/kid fit reason for showing their babies TV. I think it was even given in the Time article we read. But we were able to deal with that issue before TV came along. Easy for me to say, not yet having any kids, but can't we just put the babies in a crib or something?

Another issue I see more with American kids than I see with other kids is a lack of self-sufficiency. Some say we need to leave our kids to entertain themselves. I also think it has to do with having to drive them everywhere in their school years. (U.S. suburbs are just not built for things to be within walking distance.)

Then again, I was a latch-key kid who walked to school and was left to entertain myself a lot. But I am not terribly self-sufficient. So who the heck knows.

Colleen said...

Well, see that's the thing - there are so many factors at work that it is hard to choose which one is THE one. Pat & watched TV all the time - it went one when we got home from school, we watched through dinner, it went off at bedtime. Amee & Michael hardly ever were allowed to watch it when they left FL. Pat & are huge readers, focus easily, and Pat in particular is a pretty mellow guy - meaning he can spend all day fishing, or working on his pond or whatever. He's mellow-man. We are so not hyper. But it seems like we should be ADD based on the way we grew up, so really, I have no idea.

The laundry thing is easy to explain. Yes, you can put your baby in the crib and listen to him scream the entire time you are dealing with the laundry (or in my case at 9 months Pierce was able to climb out of the crib) or you can put on a tape that they sit quietly in front of and laugh during and it's a pleasant 5 minutes or so. No brainer choice for me.

Tv just makes it easier sometimes for the parent to get something done and when you are home alone with an infant trying to do five other things, those easy moments are golden, and everybody needs them.

I think when our grandmother was young there were other people around to watch the baby for a little while - family was there and they helped and that's how you got stuff done. My Mom just went crazy - I prefer the TV method! ha!

I figure as long as he plays outside and plays with his cars and asks to read books with us or play games, then tv is an okay thing too. Some days, rainy cold days, there is much more tv than other days. In the summer it is hardly ever on because we are rarely inside. It's all in moderation I suppose and that might be where people get screwed up. They believe that tv will make the kids smarter so the kid never leaves the tv. And then - well, yeah, then you are in trouble.

You were a twinkie girl? I don't remember that...but it was a zillion years ago and you were halfway around the world then. It is totally the twinkies fault though. Bad stuff!! ha!


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