Day 357: “Educational” TV for Toddlers? Ha!

The last few weeks I have been feeling guilty and like maybe I am not giving the little guy everything he needs.  We play a lot, read a lot, and I am always bringing him with me everywhere (obviously) and while doing so, we are talking and I am explaining everything.  We play music (not kid music, but things like Abba and Elvis), and he dances as we rock out to it together.  We have other kid friends that he is around, and I bring him to play groups and other situations where he can get the social element he needs.  I feed him balanced meals and make sure he gets what he needs when he needs it.   Overall he seems pretty happy and that his development is going well – so why do I feel like he isn’t getting everything he needs?

It’s all about music, kids songs, and kids programs (on youtube, tv, etc.).  Long ago, my wife and I made a decision that we would not use screens with the little guy for a while, so things like ipads, tvs, and even seeing our phones are not really part of his list of things that entertain him.  We made this decision because we want to be present, want him to see the world around him, and to be honest, this technology is just like a drug to people in general – and that is fine (no judgement to all of us), but it’s just a little early to get him hooked on it when he can be learning from the world around him.

In addition, I have always questioned the need to play “kids songs” (itsy bitsy spider, row row row your boat, and so on) or programs that are called “educational” for toddlers, which really just mean the abc’s, colors, shapes, numbers, or nursery rhymes.  There are actions that go with some of the songs, so I can understand the argument that it helps teach bodily awareness, and connecting words with things, and so on.  So for this argument to make sense you would have to physically do the actions with the child, for example by playing it from a speaker while you and them do the actions.  Alternatively, attend a playgroup or Kindermusik-like program where music is at the core, and you will get this.

But where I have an issue is when this stuff is played on a phone, ipad, or tv for the little one, as they sit there, glued to it, tuning out the world.  How is that “teaching” them anything?

This week, I got together with a good friend of mine and her son, and as we were catching up from us being away since December, she asked if the little guy is watching any educational youtube channels.  I said no, and that I didn’t think it mattered if he listened to kids songs.  She said she understood my point, but there’s the familiarity with the songs and the characters that eventually will help them learn things like colors, shapes, the alphabet.  I saw her logic, and she shared a channel she liked and her son likes.

So, I talked to my wife and we checked out the channel and thought we would give it a try for a few days.  On the 3rd day, when my son saw the TV come on (which is otherwise invisible to him), he just sat down and stared at the program.  I tried to do the actions with him to itsy bitsy spider, and he just looked at me and went bake to staring at the tv.  Twinkle twinkle little star came on, and he ignored my attempts to sing and do the actions while he stared at the screen, like a mesmerized little zombie, staring ahead in a trance.

It was that moment that I said, “no.”  I shut off the tv, and decided this did not feel right.  He was so passive, so “blah” – and while I can see that he could learn those things after a billion hours watching, I think he can learn them from only a hundred thousand hours of me and my wife being present with him.  I called my brother a few hours later, and while talking to him, I expressed that I am a bit stressed about this “educational tv” thing.  He talked me off the ledge and reminded me that it is good that he is learning from books and being brought out into the world, that yes, TV is a great entertainment tool, but it is not educational, and there is no way around that.  He gave some other good thoughts on the matter, which helped me to not feel bad for wanting to ignore this parenting trend.

I have to say this, which I feel will not make me popular amongst the parents or mommy/daddy bloggers out there who follow me, because I feel I am in the very large minority on this topic.  My thoughts are that it feels to me that these “educational” tv programs are just a way to give the parents a clear conscience to leave their kid in front of the tv/computer/ipad/phone while they get some “me time” or do some household stuff.  While I had the program on that 3rd day, the little guy would have sat there staring at the tv while I cooked, cleaned, or sat on my computer.  So, I think it is called “educational” without any merit, without any studies to prove that it is valuable for kids under 3 or 4.  But because it has that label, the parents say, “ok, well this will make them smarter, so I should do this.”  And then down the road they say, “ok this will keep them entertained (aka, quiet) while we sit in the line at the supermarket, or while we are in the car, or so on.”

So, I will continue to read, play, talk to my son.  I will continue to sing, listen to music, and do actions to songs without a screen, in real life.  I will continue to do things, to teach him through communication and being present.  I will continue to keep my phone in my pocket while I am around him.  I will continue to ignore the “educational tv” until he is old enough to actually learn something from it, and then I will be wary again, just like I am now.

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