Parenting

Parenting: Turn off the Tube

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It was just one of those quirks of life that my younger sister had a child before I did.

She and her husband were very particular about their son, like most new parents turning to lots of studies and cutting edge parenting advice. And that included this: No TV until a child is two. This led to a lot of gripping from my parents, who were read the riot act when my visiting sister woke up and found them watching morning news with the baby. "Didn't kill you," groused my dad. Indeed, I thought it was a little overboard - there's a difference between watching a little and leaving the kid in front of the boob tube for hours on end, right? My husband was very clear that he thought these rules were too stringent, and he didn't want them when it was our turn to parent.

So a year ago, our little guy arrived. TV was background noise from time to time, especially as he slept and I waited to be summoned by his screaming little lungs. Then as he got older we got into a little bit of a routine. I'd pick him up, we'd hit the local coffee shop for tea, then we'd come home and play, with Nick Jr on in the background. I became addicted to Yo Gabba Gabba - my husband is going as DJ Lance Rock for Halloween - and the start of the Fresh Beat Band meant it was time to go up for bath, book and bed.

But a new book has changed my thinking. John Medina has made a life studying the human brain. He just came out with Brain Rules for Baby, a look at what makes kids smarter and happier. And he says the evidence is clear: No TV, as in not even a little, until 2. He described it as choosing a pathway. Kid's brains can only take in so much. Seduced by TV, they lose capacity and interest in using their imagination or doing other things.

Okay, I gulped. What about NPR, could I have a little "All Things Considered" going in the background? Surely all those reports from war zones and Washington would make Mr. Man aces in school, no? Well, no, says Medina. Again, baby's little brain will be transfixed by the words burbling from the bookshelf rather than the words on the page of the picture book I want him to share.

Thank goodness, music is okay. I have become a connoisseur of the Putamayo kids collection. I love the way the baby smiles when I put on the reggae CD and he hears the opening lines - "Mommy, Mommy it's Roots Man Dread!" But I also notice something more important --- the way I interact with him when there are no distractions. I'm more available, more in tune. I feel like I talk to him more and look into his eyes more. I already feel like there's a difference in our connection.

My husband didn't greet the talk of "no TV," well, in fact I got an eye roll and head shake. But he quickly got on board and I now notice changes in the CD rotation, letting me know that music not movies were part of the baby's morning routine. And hey, if the first year is any indication, two will be here before we know it!

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