Random ramblings and TV-inspired activities

Monday, 31 October 2011

"Toddlers and TV - the AAP says no!"

How could I fail to miss this headline?

I've been a parent for a relatively short time, and already had my share of conflicting advice. It was ever thus. Cast back a century or two and babies were considered passive creatures to be parked in their prams and ignored, no stimulation needed. More recently we've swung from crying is necessary and exercises their lungs to attachment parenting, and all shades in between... How times change.

The idea that television is bad for kids isn't a new one. And anecdotes are not the same as data, but I wonder whether the researchers are measuring the right things in these studies. "There are no known positive effects" they say, and it inhibits linguistic development. How are they testing this, exactly? It seems quite a limited list of criteria, to my untrained eye.

I took ToddlerGirl along to participate in a psychology experiment recently, looking into episodic memory in 2-3 year olds. The current theories state that children do not develop episodic memory until the age of 5. The researchers are investigating whether, in fact, children have epidodic memory capability at an earlier age. There is still much that we do not understand about the development of cognitive function. I would be interested to see the evidence that children learn nothing from the television, when I know for a fact that my two-year old (who incidentally, started talking at the early end of the spectrum ) learns phrases and concepts from things she has seen. Something Special, for example.

We love Mr Tumble, as I have said before. ToddlerGirl seems to have passed through the phase now of signing at the same time she talks, but she had a lot of signs at one point, and she'd only got that from the TV, from that specific programme. (Yes, we'd done baby-signing with her, but only 'milk', 'more' and 'cat'.) Even BabyBoy waves at Mr Tumble at the appropriate point in the "hello" and "goodbye" song. He'll also clap when people on TV clap, as well as when people in real life clap. Is he confused by what is real and what's TV? I don't know. If he is, he'll work it out soon enough...

Perhaps it helps that we often talk about what we're watching, how the characters are feeling, how they're affected by what's going on etc, but I hold my hands up and say we do sometimes use the TV as a babysitter. Particularly if it is one of those days where I just need to come up for air for a moment. I would argue it's better that they sit agog in front of Mr Tumble while I have a reviving cup of tea - in peace! - than have me harrassed and stressing out at them. Just the thought of how we would have navigated The Chicken Pox Month without televisual assistance breaks me out in a cold sweat.

Let me be clear that I am not endorsing the use of television as a substitute parent. I will be resisting any requests for the kids to have TVs in their bedrooms, as it then becomes a solitary and isolated experience, from a family perspective anyway. (From a social perspective, I can remember not being allowed to watch Neighbours because it was a 'bad influence' and I was excluded from the playground chat as a result - I'm talking primary school age, mind. Despite not being allowed to watch it, one of my most treasured possessions at the time was the Kylie and Jason wedding card from Topps. And I loved that song. That awful, awful, song.)

I've mentioned elsewhere that one of BabyBoy's first words was "Peppa". That may not be a good thing, but from my experience thus far, I wouldn't say that language is being inhibited. And if The Pig keeps him happy in his playpen while Mummy has to attend to the call of nature, where's the harm? It quiets his protests, I get to do what I need to do...

Hmm. Is there an analogy there, between how many adults sit happy watching X Factor or soaps or whatever vs how many actually protest about the state of society to those in authority? Perhaps I need to rethink my argument?! Are we all in playpens of our own devising? Beware bread and circuses...


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