In a Nutshell

Too busy to read Buy, Buy Baby? Well, I highly recommend it because it’s amazing to see your own self pinpointed so well as a demographic to be marketed to, but in case you can’t get to it, I’ll give you her conclusions in a nutshell.

First, no TV is good for children before the age of two. Any talk about TV being educational for babies is either misguided, misleading, or outright deceptive. There have been no studies that have proven the effectiveness of “educational” TV for children younger than toddler age(3+). Babies are not, in fact, toddlers. There are huge developmental milestones between babies and toddlers, and one of those differences is in the way they process symbolic thought. In order to watch TV and understand what’s going on, you must be able to at least in part use symbolic thought.

But you’re thinking, my little one absolutely loves those Baby Einstein videos! Think again. She is just demonstrating the “orienting response“. It’s basically the response we have when being presented with novel stimulation. Whenever your child is glued to the screen, he’s not in rapt attention because he likes the content. Babies can in no way understand the content. Symbolic thought doesn’t begin to build until a few years into a child’s life. He is glued to the screen because he can’t help himself – the orienting response paralyzes him. (It actually happens to adults, too.)

Studies have also shown that children exposed to even just background TV show more problems with focusing, attention deficit, and obesity. Introducing your child to TV as a babysitter is so tempting, especially when they seem so “focused” and interested in it. However, it’s probably not best for your child in the long run. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for babies under two, and Thomas’s conclusions underscore that recommendation.

The other big topic that Thomas tackled was the idea of selling to babies. She reminds us that while young children who watch “educational” television cannot learn developmental milestones from the programming, they can learn to love the story’s central characters. Toy manufacturers are legally prohibited from directing advertising at babies and children, because they have no ability to understand the power of persuasion and therefore are defenseless against advertising. Toy companies get around this by having their own hired child development expert endorse their toys as “educational.” At the same time, they also work with powerful licensing departments to embed their brand, embodied by Elmo or Dora or the Teletubbies, into every segment of the market imaginable. Thus Elmo ends up on clocks, toothbrushes, bags and backpacks, TV and videos, sheets, sofas, books and more. The end result is that you begin to raise a very brand-consciuous consumer who will ask for a product by brand-name before the second birthday.

Children do not need special branded or educational toys to learn. Basic, sturdy toys that inspire imagination and creative play, coupled with your interaction, love and attention, is all that is necessary to aid your child’s healthy development. Spend time with your children doing Nothing. Not nothing. But a purposeful Nothing. Spend time with your kids, playing, interacting, loving, watching. That’s all they need to be healthy and smart.

Henry plays with toys

  1. Monica’s avatar

    I have to agree with all that you said. I, of course, let Evan watch TV. I try to justify it, saying that channels like PBS, Sprout and Noggin are geared for his age group, but he’s probably better off without it. The only caveat to that would be that it has expanded his vocabulary pretty significantly. Shows like Pinky Doo have taught him the meaning of words like “gigantic” which he uses appropriately on a regular basis. He learned “on top” and “on bottom”, he likes to build “volcanoes” in his sandbox, and when he’s in the tub he uses his bucket to create “waterfalls”. I know he’s learned this via the TV. BUT, I also know that when it’s time for him to pick-up his toys, there can be no TV b/c it’s too distracting for him. That’s probably the “orienting response” you cited.
    One last thought: I have actually learned a thing or two watching these shows. Little Einsteins has taught me things about the Arts and Dora and Diego refresh some of my very basic Spanish language skills:-)

  2. Ele’s avatar

    For some reason my bloglines has been missing updates from you – wil fix post haste. I am glad you posted this, because it just reaffirmed my commitment to not park Finn in front of the tv. Will and I are HUGE evening time couch potatoes (after Finn goes to bed), but we don’t watch tv with Finn – a few times we’ve seen Yo Gabba Gabba or Seasame Street (probably 2-3 times ever) – mainly b/c I wanted to see if he enjoyed it. Interesting observation on the *branded* toys. I do not/will not buy/give Finn anything with a character on it. I have always just felt weird about that.

  3. Lindsay’s avatar

    So true. Max has never seen Star Wars, Spiderman, Superman, or TMNT but he talks about them constantly. It all really came about when he went to pre-school and was around kids who have seen them. No joke, when he was 3, he came home from school and “shot a spider web” at me from his wrist “like Spider Man” he said… I was flabbergasted!

    We are guilty of buying him things (toys, blankets, pajamas) with those characters on them… I guess because he likes the “brand”, it is easy?

    All aside though, I do believe the best interaction is imaginitive, creative, and spontaneous. I can’t tell you how many hours we have sat in his room building garages out of blocks so his animals had a place to live and “enjoyed” fish-orange-pringle-french fry soup made from his minature food and cooking set.