Kids, media, a dose of skepticism
My friends don’t let their 2-year-old watch television. ANY television. He doesn’t know or care who Barney or Elmo is, doesn’t know Noggin from Nickelodeon and probably isn’t even up on the latest breakfast cereals and instantly disposable plastic toys (with life-like plastic action!).My older kids asked a few questions to confirm this amazing reality, but they thankfully restrained from offering an opinion. I could see it in their eyes, though: “How can you deny your children the basic human right of TV viewing?!”There are no absolutes when it comes to raising kids. Other than the obvious things, like you can’t hang a whiny kid from a peg on the wall or administer scotch to colicky babies, pretty much parents have to find their own moral compass, so if one couple thinks the solution to a better kid is no TV, well, I’m not going to say anything (plus, there’s no surer way to stir the pot of friendship than by bringing up religion, politics or child-raising opinions – unless you’re pretty sure you’re on the same page).Opinions vary widely as to how much TV, video game or computer use is good, bad or not so good or so bad for kids. Like most parents, I imagine, we call a halt when it seems like the privilege is being misused, and we’re also guilty of over-indulgence when it gives a moment’s peace. Leaving out the computer and video games, it’s not too much different from how I grew up: We watched TV a fair amount, but did other stuff as well: played board games, knocked over garbage cans in the neighborhood, etc. My wife, raised in the rural South, had only a couple of channels as a kid – one about pigs and goats and the other, apparently, showing only the “Partridge Family” 24/7.When we tell our kids about the dark days of only a few channels, no remote and no cable, they can scarcely believe it. How did we ever survive? On top of all that, no iPods, no computers, no Playstations … (but at least we got to ride around on woolly mammoths, I tell them).Like many things, TV taken in moderation is only as bad as we allow it to be. We have the power to flip from “Fear Factor” to a History Channel documentary (even if we rarely do). We also have the ability, the obligation, really, to teach our kids to be skeptical of almost everything that comes at them via the media. Educating them to be critical media consumers is as vital a skill as learning to read – especially with 500 channels of crapola on all day, all night.Ever since the thing was invented and available to the masses, TV has been vilified as the killer of all things sacred to American family life – while simultaneously embraced by the great majority of the population – kids especially – as something as necessary as air. Viewership in our neck of the woods is probably below average, because we think of things to do outside during the day, but in these dark nights of winter, might yet another round of Parcheesi grow thin if we didn’t have “The Bachelor” to look forward to and ridicule?Oftentimes, TV is so bad it’s good. The notion of the innocent child is charming, sure, but I’d prefer my kids be a little more battle-hardened by the time they leave the house. Watching a dreadful show and pointing out the absurdities is just one way to let them know that some media is best consumed holding one’s nose.Vail, Colorado
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