This week, Dade Hayes continues to question himself about what he learned while investigating the media’s effects on his two kids, Margot (5) and Finley (1½) for his book, Anytime Playdate: Inside the Preschool Entertainment Boom, or, How Television Became My Baby’s Best Friend (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2008).
You claim in the book that only 6% of parents know about the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for no TV under the age of 2. Is that the real number? From everyone I talk to – and this voice gets in a lot of people’s heads – it’s more like 96%.
The stat is correct as of 2005. I do wonder if they were to take the poll now maybe it would be a much higher number. Awareness is one thing and action is another. I would wager that the information and the consciousness about obesity, for example, is a lot higher and yet you still have a lot of parents not really taking the proper steps for nutrition. It’s not that it’s solely their responsibility I just think sometimes awareness and action are not always the same thing. Plus, the more I investigated the recommendation, the more questionable it seemed. Highly accomplished experts in child development have been casting doubts on it for years and I feel that reasonable minds can certainly disagree on how young is too young. Much of it, as with so much in parenting, depends on the child.
You spent some time in Colorado with Julie Clark, who created Baby Einstein. What’s she all about and did she change your mind about baby videos?
People have said about the chapter, accurately, that it seemed like I was sort of biting my tongue the whole time through. And I was, on purpose. I really wanted to pull back and let her explain how it all happened, because I feel like there really hasn’t been a lot of that type of reporting about Baby Einstein. Again, it gets sort of lost in these polemics about why it’s such an evil thing. I do have to say, of any segment of this 0-5 marketplace I actually have the most criticism for baby videos. I know that (U. Mass guru) Dan Anderson is working on some research that might shed some new light on some of the value of baby videos. I think so far there’s no evidence that it does a thing. At best it’s neutral and at worst it seems like a major time waster. One thing I didn’t stop to think about was the cutting – there are a lot of edits in Baby Einstein and most people agree that cannot be conducive to proper development. People find a lot of fault with Teletubbies, for example, but it’s important to note that the camera barely moves. Characters just come onscreen and off. And that, to me, is valuable and helps explain its appeal.
When you started the book, Margot was barely six months old. Now you have two kids. Finley was born just you were finishing the book. So what’s changed, media-wise, in the Hayes house as a result of all your research?
I actually quote a friend of mine in the book about how their little one ended up really exposed because of the older brother watching stuff. The complication that I think every parent goes through when they have their second is there’s always that spillover effect, so my son has ended up watching stuff that’s totally not geared to him. He doesn’t plop down and really watch anything at any great length, which I think is just fine. He’s very responsive to music. I have the whole chapter on music and the time I spent with a great band called Milkshake. I actually continue to believe that it’s sort of a nice alternative. People don’t often put it alongside TV and video and think of it as another way to go but I’ve started to do that a lot more and that’s been fun.
Well, I still haven’t gotten a bottom line out of you. So, is this stuff good or bad for kids? What advice are you trying to give.
My big point is just to be literate. Media literacy is a concept that’s been advanced time and time again that doesn’t have enough adherents. I think people need to accept that this is a media era. We get so much information through media, especially with the Internet. There’s a ubiquity to it; thus my book’s title (taken from an actual promotional campaign by Sprout). Learn to find the good stuff, because there’s very good stuff out there today being made. The boom in overall production and the mushrooming of content can be a little disorienting and sometimes you feel just overwhelmed by how much there is, but it’s not a question of should the TV be on or off. I just think it’s a question of what you’re going to find and just moderating the amount of time. We’re learning to do that, I think, as adults with DVRs, Hulu, and iTunes – all the myriad ways that we learn to tailor our entertainment experience to our contemporary lifestyle. I think there’s a lot to be gained by teaching kids or modeling for kids that discernment, that level of filtering so that it’s not just turning the TV on, having it on as background noise or mindlessly flipping channels but you seek out something you think you’re going to get some value from. I’m not saying it needs to be something educational, like filmstrips or something, just some kind of notion of quality. And as hard as it might be, parents I think should be on the couch partaking in at least some of their kids’ entertainment experience, because they should know what it sounds like and looks like and what lessons it’s teaching. You can’t have 100% co-viewing. I mention that most people define co-viewing as 15 minutes where the parents are watching with their kids, and you know 15 minutes isn’t all that much to ask.