Forgive me for being so harsh but the only thing that makes me more angry - than going through Security at the Airport (are you serious? my shoes, my belt, my watch AND my sweater!?!) - is watching companies advertise video gaming systems for toddlers.
There are two specific commercials that make my mother/teacher-self blood boil. One is for the VTech VSmile "Learning System". The other is for the VTech VSmile FOR BABIES!! And then, they just came up with a way to make parents *really* happy: a video game that is supposed to get your kid to exercise (VTech V-Motion).
I'm sorry, Mr. Advertisers, but I don't see how my kid pushing some buttons on a remote control while making something show up on the TV is teaching my child anything. Children are concrete thinkers. They can't think abstractly until they are around 10 years old! Toddlers don't need a TV to learn and be active, they need adult interaction and lots of land to play.
Believe it or not, these child game systems are big sellers. The VTech VSmile for Infants is actually an award winner by a favorite parent magazine. I feel it's so blatantly wrong that every time I see a commercial for it, I want to just throw something at the TV. It's like witnessing a drug deal go down. It's almost hard to believe they can get away with the misrepresentation of their product.
It makes me so mad that these advertisers are take advantage of parent's innocent desire to teach their children and help them grow cognitively. Well-meaning parents believe anything that says, "your kid will learn better" is worth it - even when there is no proof.
These systems have come after the highly successful Baby Einstein, those videos that lots of moms are sticking their infants in front of in order to make them smart, has recently been mandated by law to substantially altered and in some cases even eliminate many of the educational claims cited in a 2006 FCC complaint.
But to my dismay, a company has come out with a Christian Baby Einstein-look alike called PraiseBabyDVD's, an effort to appeal to Christian parents. (I'm not so sure what was so "unChristian" about Baby Einstein but that's another topic for another day).
PraiseBaby advertises on it's website that it's: "the first developmentally appropriate video and audio series that creates a nurturing environment for your baby’s intellectual AND spiritual development."
No, no, no, people. You can't get spiritual development from watching TV. Both spiritual and cognitive development can only be gained from human interaction. No amount of hours with a DVD or a baby play station is going to match the minutes spent with a real live teaching adult.
But if parents are going to do it (and there are times when I've desperately needed a moment of peace and tried to sit Little Bear in front of the TV), let's just be honest about it. Let's just be open about the fact that these items aren't going to make our kids smarter (they are likely to do more damage than good). They are not learning items, they are entertainment items.
More than half of parents of young children believe that baby videos are good for child development. And the most common reason parents give for putting babies and toddlers in front of screens is that they are beneficial to children’s brain development.
Look, if it allows me to entertain my little one for a few minutes while I take out the trash or pay a bill, then fine. But, let's as parents, not make ourselves feel good about helping our children learn by sitting them down in front of the TV.
Rather than spend the $40 for a video game, let's spend it on a nice wooden toy that will last, or a new board game the entire family can play, or on art supplies our child can use again and again.
Reading a book on TV is not the same as a reading a book with Little Bear in my lap. Blues Clues counting to ten isn't the same as touching Little Bear's toes as I count each of them. And learning colors in Spanish is must more effective if I teach it to Little Bear than if I let Dora do it.
Let's be honest with ourselves. Our kids need less stuff and more time with us. That's how to make them smarter, more active and more happy.
Sources: Rideout, V. (2007) Parents, Children and Media: A Report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation, p. 15., http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/107/2/423, retrieved August 6, 2008., Zimmerman, F.J., Christakis, D.A., Meltzoff, A.N. (2007) Television and DVD/video viewing in children younger than 2 years. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. 161(5): 473-9.