Sunday, February 28, 2016

ignorance, fast food, and screen time

When I became a parent, I found myself hungry for advice. In an effort to stave the encroaching panic about my lack of fatherhood skills, I hunted down suggestions from every possible source. Me and my wife, for instance, purchased more than one of the books from the What to Expect When You're Expecting series. We scoured over them. Prior preparation prevents poor performance, right?

As it turned out, after about ten months, most of these books went by the wayside, never to be opened again. What was the issue? On one hand, since every child develops differently, the advice they contain requires so much interpretation, it's not funny. Worried your kid is slow learning to do something? Consult the book...only to find that while many children acquire the skill at this age, many others do so either earlier or later in their development cycle. It only takes a few of these instances to begin to see said books for what they are: the parental equivalent of junk food...nice every so often, but no substitute for actual food.

Lots of the advice also tends to be common sense stuff.  There is one important condition to this, however: the parent cannot be an idiot. Any section on proper nutrition works as a good example. If you need to be told not to feed your eight month old McDonald's hamburgers, no amount of outside advice is going to really help your parenting skills.

One bit of advice I saw more than once was to make sure you limit your child's screen time. Watching too much television, the books claim, can hinder emotional and mental development, thus possibly turning your child into a slithering moron. No more than three hours per day, many of them recommend. Others suggested one hour as a maximum. Still others said no television at all. Of course, they also suggested that you move out to a grassland and become a homesteader, gathering your own food from the surrounding take that as you will.

On one hand, I can kind of understand this advice. There is a lot of junk on know, the visual equivalent of that McDonald's hamburger. After all, no one on Earth needs to be exposed to any more Barney or Calliou than absolutely necessary. However, I trained as a media scholar, and as a result, I'm innately suspicious of any claim about the medium overall. It reminds me of those academics who brag that they don't even own a television. I suspect it's more an issue of perceived class than a matter of actual science.

So, with our child, we don't put too many limits on screen time. We try to encourage good shows, and  we try to help her find stuff with some value. That, however, is about it. I feel that my daughter still watches an awful lot of garbage. My wife says I only think this stuff because I'm a bitter person. She also says that I need to let my standards go and remember that it's only kid's programming. Of course I disagree. For example, why on Earth would the Bubble Guppies, who live under water, be flying on an airplane? Of course this drives me crazy, so of course, this is a stupid show.

The thing is, my wife might (shudder) very well be right...because my daughter does seem to become a whole lot smarter as a result of the television shows she watches.

On Wednesday, we were (after a heavy morning of playing and artwork), vegetating and watching television. Well, my daughter was watching while I was playing gin rummy on my phone. She had on something I'd rather ignore, so I was ignoring it. The show must've been something about space, because she said to me, "Daddy, is that true? Is the Earth really a big ball?"

"Yes it is, darling."

"...and if we jumped up and down really hard, could we make the Earth bounce around the room?"

She had my attention. "No, honey. The Earth is really big. It would take a whole lot to move it. You'd have to be a really big giant to have any effect at all."

She thought it over. "A really big giant? Would it work if you were a proboscis monkey?"

And this is why I'm completely rethinking my relationship with media...and, for that matter, with fast food.

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