Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The genius box

In a news release that shocked nobody, The Nielsen Co. reported that young children are watching more TV now than in any year since 1995. This includes DVDs and PVRed shows. Thirty-two hours a week, on average.

Now, I don't pretend to be the world's greatest parent. Like everyone else, I'm making it up as I go along. We have certain things we are careful about: nutrition (mostly homemade food, organic when it counts), physical safety, streetsmarts, exercise, athletic skills, socialization. But on other things, we are more like our parents. And TV is one of them.

At Four years, 11 months, and change, Ladman loves to watch television. I don't think he's up to 32 hours a week, but he does love to tune in when he gets up in the morning, and right after school. I did the same, when I was a kid, so it doesn't seem that harmful to me. Hell, I work in advertising. I'm cynical that way.

What's different with my son is his viewing habits. When I was a kid, I loved nature and science documentaries. So did my wife. And so, naturally, does he. But while we had to wait for our weekly dose of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, he gets his shows on demand, recorded on PVR, or purchased on DVD. Over and over again.

Some favourites have been the whole BBC Walking With Dinosaurs franchise, as well as the many nature shows produced and/or narrated by David Attenborough (Blue Planet, Life in Cold Blood, Planet Earth). Recently, he has started to gravitate towards nature adventurers like the Crocodile Hunter (we don't tell him how that one ended), Snakemaster, Nigel Marven,Jules Sylvester, and Rob Bredl.

One that I'm not entirely sure of is "Bite Me" with Dr. Mike Leahy. This guy's a masochistic virologist who allows himself to get bitten, stung, envenomated and parasitized by some of the world's creepiest crawlies. Considering Ladman managed to get stung by a jellyfish and bitten by a garter snake this summer, I'm not sure this is a great influence.

But what I'm getting at here is that TV is like anything. It's the content that matters. My son exercises, socializes, gets read to, plays imaginative games (with rubber snakes or live bugs, of course!)... but he also enjoys his shows. And, as a result of watching guys with PhDs and nature nuts run around in khakis, he has a picked up a surprisingly rich scientific vocabulary for a kid his age.

The downside is that the TV shows on National Geographic and other channels are full of commercials, so we get constant advice from the boy as to which brand of yogurt or paper towels we should be buying. He's a sucker for ads. Karma's a bitch.

The thing that really amazed me happened just last night. He insisted on taking a small plastic baggie with him into the bath. (He loves playing with water.) He kept filling it up, and squeezing the water out, over and over again, until he turned to me and said "Dad! Look! This is how my heart works!"

You win this one, television.


  1. nice.

    i agree. i think that television is a good educational tool ... a good source for starting points in conversations about science, history, politics ...

    hell, as a kid, i'd wake up at 5am and watch University of the Air, learn a little something, then get utterly confused when Circle Square came on ... but i guess that was my Intro to Comparative Religion.

    i watched a healthy dose of TV as a kid, and i think that helped guide my childhood curiosities.

    only thing is that my father was quite the censor. no Dukes of Hazard. no BJ and the Bear. no Knight Rider. and definitely nothing that made light of war ... to this day i'm baffled by references to M*A*S*H or Hogan's Heroes ...

    oh klink ...

  2. Agree with you Tom. The main issue with TV, as with anything with children, is parental involvement. Communication with your child about what s/he is watching, and of course, making sure TV isn't the ONLY activity, means a healthy balance, and a healthy kid. The heart story is awesome! :-)

  3. I continue to be amazed at the body of knowledge Jack has accumulated - much like his Dad. Google pales in comparison.
    And then I have Mike Holmes - another source of knowledge +++.

  4. As an interesting accompaniment to this, here's Freakonomics blogging about the massive fail of Baby Einstein DVDs:

  5. My boys certainly weren't hurt by all their TV watching - in fact, I credit some of the shows they watched with helping grow their freakishly developed reading skills.