15 September 2011

Spongiform Encephalopathy

It seems the big news this week is that Sponge Bob turns young brains to mush. I tried to ignore it when I first spotted this article. After all, there wasn't much about that statement that struck me as surprising. Sure, researchers have long been asking questions about how much television is good, bad, or has no impact at all. When Sesame Street debuted in 1969 with the goal of helping young children learn, studies were designed to look at test scores of children who would have been exposed to the programming compared with children who were not.

What do the studies tell us? Well, while there are certainly fascinating tidbits to be found here and there and that will amuse developmental specialists for decades to come, I would venture to say that the bulk of the literature echoes what common sense should have clued us into from the very start. Certain television, aimed at keeping your children entranced and slack jawed on the couch, is probably not boosting their IQs. Other shows, ones that reinforce simple concepts and encourage audience participation, are probably not so bad. You might want to turn them on, for example, when you hop into the shower or fold the laundry. No harm, no foul.

Should you park your child in front of the television all day? Should you depend on television to teach your child to count or to be kind to strangers or spell his or her name? Of course not. Do we sometimes turn on television that we know is not necessarily educational because we just need a break? Yes, and that's absolutely okay.

At the park this last weekend Emmaline saw a horse she has seen many times since we moved to our new neighborhood. Usually she yells, "Horsie!" Or she squeals what is meant to sound like a neigh. This time, however, she said "Yee haw!" because that is what Jessie from Toy Story shouts. It's a movie that she doesn't really understand and, yes, she does get slack jawed sitting in front of it.

But here's where I think it differs from Sponge Bob, if we've reached the part of this post where I defend my parenting choices. I enjoy it as much as she does. That means that as much as the movie is entertainment and not education, it is something we share, that we discuss even when the television is off. The stories we love can define us just as much as how quickly we learn to read or write. In fact, I think that one inspires the other.

In healthy moderation, as with all things. But then, I didn't need a study to tell me that. It's something my mother taught me a long time ago.

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