A few years ago my husband and I had lunch with some friends and their children. Their youngest son spent the entirety of our meal watching a Nickelodeon show that neither one of us could pronounce on his mother's iPhone. At one point he dropped the phone on the floor and wailed loudly that he was momentarily without entertainment. He was two.
When this incredibly long lunch was over, my husband and I walked away with our noses pointed high in the sky. "When we have kids, they will NOT be addicted to the TV. Our kids won't even be allowed to know what a television is before the age of ten!"
Oh, how easy it is to judge the things that you know nothing about.
When we found out I was pregnant, television again became a part of our conversation about the future. It doesn't take following me on this blog for very long to know that I love television and I watch a good lot of it. I would like to think I only watch quality programming, but then Beverly Hills 90210 is my favorite show of all time. My husband is an avid sports fan and so that is also often on in the background. But both of us agree that when our twin babies became old enough to be aware of its presence, the idiot box gets powered down.
There are boatloads of studies done on the effects of television on children, babies in particular. By and large, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages parents from allowing their infants to watch television before the age of two. Despite this fact, there are endless amounts of infant-targeted programming that is supposed to encourage early word learning, stimulation and development. Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby and Baby Genius are a few titles I have come across, but there are surely more. The baby market is a hot one.
Why wouldn't you want your baby to get a head start on learning, you may be asking? The thing is that most studies done on these types of videos show that they don't do squat. Experiments performed on infants of certain ages showed that watching these types of videos not only didn't promote the learning intended, some had negative effects on infants such as confusion and poor attention. Additionally, what's been found again and again is that the best results achieved in promoting mimicry and connection to the real world are when parents are the ones doing the teaching. So while showing your babies some of these videos isn't really going to hurt them, per se, it gives parents an out; they should be the ones working with their babies. And that's where the real rub comes in.
Reading to your baby, singing songs with baby, just talking out loud, all of these things have been proven to promote learning, but sometimes...yeah...you just want to be left the hell alone. Or maybe it's not even that you want to be left alone; you just need to pee. Herein lays the dilemma.
My twins are hitting the four-month mark and the term "witching hour" that people use to describe when babies like to freak out has been extended to "witching day." The one thing that we've found that they are really interested in is our ceiling fan. Yeah, sounds weird, but we assume it has something to do with the black and white contrast of the blades with the ceiling. Sometimes we just hold the one who is crying the most up in the direction of the damn thing to get him to calm down. That contrasty thing is why there are all of those baby products with black and white images.
"Hey, why not print some black/white pictures out and see if that catches their attention," I thought to myself. And from the good grace of God, it worked...for like two minutes, and then the one started crying again.
Fast-forward to last week when my more troublesome baby was having his tri-daily meltdown. Not even the ceiling fan would help him, so in a moment of desperation, I Googled "black, white video, baby," and of course 100 of them came up. So for the next eight minutes, the babies sat in awe watching a YouTube video of white dots bounce around a black background. They loved it. I felt like the worst mother in the world as I poured myself a cup of coffee and savored the momentary silence.
Okay, it was a one-time deal and I would never do that again. Or...maybe I would just do it when I really needed to get something done like take a shower, she thought as she plopped baby in front of the iPad to be entertained.
And there you have it. It took only four months for me to go against my staunch declaration of no television.
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Which brings me to a question: Is it okay to show the babies these simple videos as long as they really aren't taking anything in, just being entertained, or will that lead me down a path of relying on the digital babysitter? I mean, the kids can't even hold their own necks up; do they really need to be watching the iPad?
Babies and the iPad came into the news this past winter when Fisher-Price introduced a baby bouncy chair that comes equipped with an iPad clip so you can strap the little tyke in with the tablet and go about your entire day. And of course I found those black and white videos that run for like ten hours on YouTube. This piece of baby furniture outraged a few people, especially since the AAP really thinks putting baby in front of the screen is a bad thing. Additionally, search through the iTunes store and you'll find a ton of infant-related applications. So, basically the iPad is the new Saturday Morning Cartoons.
But this brings me back to my own conundrum. My parents didn't allow us to watch television after school or on the weekends, but we totally did anyway and eventually they gave up. And because of that fact, I know all the words to the Ducktails' theme song, something I am proud of. I love TV and all of its magical powers. I worked in television for years, I write about it; I have a master's degree in it! How can I deny my own kids knowing this tool that I consider to be one of my very best friends? (Yeah, it's sad.)
I assume like everything in life, it's all about moderation. And starting them early, in this case, may not be the best idea. But I am curious to hear what you all have done with your babies and then older children. To TV or not to TV, that is the question!