Monday, October 11, 2010

Rambling thoughts on books and television and babies

I’ve always liked television. I’m a definite child of the boob tube, although when I was growing up the selection of programs for kids was far more limited than it is now. We never had cable, and even if we had, I doubt I’d have been allowed to sit in front of Nick Jr or Nickel.odeon or the Dis.ney Channel for more than a little while. Back in the day (as I smack my dentures), Saturday morning cartoons were the big show, and really all that was available. I didn’t know otherwise, so I enjoyed my TV when I could get it.

Books were my main source of information and entertainment, however, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Literally. I remember sneaking into the adult section of my hometown library. What was I sneaking up there to find? Books on English history. I'm pretty sure this is why the librarians never stopped me. If I'd been going up there for the bodice rippers, I might have been gently guided back to the kids' section. Heh.

I'm still a reader, but my love of TV has also continued into my adult life. If I have time, I’ll watch almost anything—from home decorating shows, to documentaries (I love documentaries, even about obscure subjects), to cooking shows, to cop shows, to dramas. I like shows that make me think, or make me laugh, or teach me things. So, basically, what I’m saying is that I like TV. It’s fun.

Of course, nationally, TV viewership has exploded since I was a wee sproglet. Circa 2009, the average American now watches more than 151 hours of TV a month—that’s about five hours a day. That number blows my mind. I have to say even in my sluggiest winter couch-lazing, I’m not sure I ever made it up to that number. And that number isn't even counting online viewing.

A slightly older survey found that the average child watches 1,680 minutes of TV a week—versus 3.5 minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children. And by the time an average child finishes elementary school, they’ll have seen 8,000 murders on TV. 8,000!! You can’t tell me that doesn’t have some kind of impact.

Elle hasn’t even rolled over yet (she’s trying, and it’s hilarious), but if I have the TV on in my bedroom while we’re getting ready, I can see her little eyes gravitate towards it. Even though I just have on the news, it’s shiny and bright, with colors and lights—tailor-made for baby eyes, and waaay more interesting than Mom’s face. But passive interaction with the tube doesn’t give her anything that helps her learn or grow. I read somewhere that they did some kind of analysis between a baby looking at a real dog, and a baby looking at a dog on TV, and the difference in how the baby’s brain was engaged was astronomical.

I’m not a saint. I’ll be using TV as a babysitter occasionally, and I’m not going to worry about it too much. I’ll try to limit it to PBS fare for as long as I can; I’m more comfortable with programs that at least pretend to be educational and aren’t peppered with commercials. But I know that can’t last forever.

I hope it lasts long enough, though, to plant in her a love of reading over TV. I’ve seen in my goddaughter that if you don’t learn to love books when you’re young, you’re never going to love them. You may end up liking them a lot, but you won’t love them. I want Elle to feel that books are magical, and that libraries are places of wonder. That finding a new book by a favorite author is like finding a gift meant just for you. That being deep in a good book means you hardly hear anything going on around you, because you’re off in some far-away (or make-believe) land, miles from your chair. That sometimes the way a book smells stays in your memory—I know, that sounds weird. But if you love books, you understand.

At this point, I’m just thrilled when she focuses on an object and smiles. But I know how quickly this roller coaster goes, and I don’t want to miss the window. I’m sure she’ll like TV, just like her mommy. But I also hope she loves books just as much as I do, because that’s the kind of love that leads somewhere.

My deep love for cop shows hasn’t really benefited me in any measurable way, as fun as they are. But reading? That’s paid off a thousand times over, and always will.

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