Entries in Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (2)


Me and the Man with the Yellow Hat (A Confession)

As many of you know I have been actively pushing National Screen Free week, own a media free school and we are soon sponsoring the screening of the film “Consuming Kids,” which addresses the effects of media and marketing on children.  Clearly when it comes to the debate over television viewing and children, you can tell which camp I’m in...  

...but I think its important to clear the air, just a bit.  Mainly because it is entirely possible that my four year old could strike up a conversation with you about Dora, and I just don’t want you to yell out, “Ah-HA!” and scare the bejesus out of her.

I have waged an internal struggle with the television since day one as a parent...well, more accurately since the day when, exhausted from pregnancy number two, I succumbed to The Man with the Yellow Hat...gratefully...and he was good to me.  We had an on again, off again relationship for a couple of years after that.

Throughout the past few years my permissiveness about television viewing for my children has ebbed and flowed.  I would ban it for a while, and then someone would become ill and look pathetic laying there on the couch, and we would watch something...maybe a lot of somethings.  After that television might become a daily thing for a while.  Then suddenly, I would notice that my children were not playing imaginatively, they were playing...Dora.  Something about this really disturbed me.  These little beings are just full of creativity and amazing ideas and yet instead they were just recreating someone else’s stories.  So the television would be banished, until the next time.

It have always scoffed at the idea that television for very young children is educational.  I don’t buy it.  I tried to adopt the attitude that, although I don’t believe the children are learning anything from television, its not really hurting them either.   Then someone said something at the recent Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood Summit that kind of hit me right between the eyes.  Joan Almon said, “All media is educational.  You just have to ask yourself, ‘What is it teaching?’”  Hmm.  As an early childhood educator I know that young children take in everything from their environment uncritically.  Of course this includes media. Duh.

I immediately thought of this poem by Walt Whitman...

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day,

or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years....


The early lilacs became part of this child,

And grass, and white and red morning-glories, 

and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,

And the Third-month lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, 

and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf,

And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there--and the beautiful curious liquid,

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads--all became part of him...


Whoa.  I asked myself, do I really want these commercialized characters to become a part of who my children are?  So there are, I think, two important questions that we as parents and caregivers should be asking oursleves:

With what are we filling our children during this critical phase when they are imbued with all they see?  

What valuable, real life experiences are they missing out on while they are watching television or playing video games?

I am not going to profess that my children will never again watch television, for I am a realist (sometimes), but I will say that the decision of what to watch and when will not be taken lightly.  We have such a short window within which to be the gate keepers for our children.  I believe we have a responsibility to teach them that the world is beautiful, good, and safe, and that there are better things to do than this...

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years....




No Purchase Necessary

I recently attended the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood summit.  Interestingly enough, Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, opened the event by talking not about marketing to kids, but instead about the effects of marketing and media on parents.  While marketers know that sex sells nearly everything, they also know fear and insecurity sell just about everything else.  They know how to get our attention - make us think for a second that our children might not be living to their full potential or heaven forbid might be falling behind or in actual danger and of course, they have our rapt attention.  The problem is, it is often, well...b.s.

Lenore said (I’m paraphrasing, forgive me) parents become convinced, before their child is even born, that when their baby comes out it will be this lump with which they have this very limited window to mold into The David. They are pressured into believing that if they don't frantically cram as much adult directed 'learning' as possible into their child during this critical time, their child will always just be a lump. Little Johnny needs to take a crawling class so he will learn how to crawl, otherwise he may just never learn.

The fear begins, perhaps while our baby is still a tiny seed of a being, and with each increasing belly centimeter our anxiety grows about whether we will give our children the right tools to be something special.  But you know what, these little people don’t need us to do as much, buy as much, prepare as much as we think they do (and, by the way, the reason we think it is because that is what is sold to us everywhere we look).  The truth is, researchers have discovered time and again that the real innovators and creative minds of our time were, as children, given less "stuff' and "entertainment" and more free play and exploration.  

We need to remember that it is the advertising industry’s job to undermine our confidence as parents in order to sell us products (that we just don’t need).  As an example, Lenore broke out a toddler “walking harness” which, it is professed, will help your baby “develop motor skills, balance and coordination.”  Really? Have human beings not been learning to do just that for hundreds of thousands of years, unaided by this groundbreaking contraption? Not to be too metaphorical here, but don’t we all know that if you don’t ever fall down, you will never learn to pick yourself up, to balance fail (gasp!) and carry on? 

In this sea of advertising, media and marketing, we need to find our natural footing as parents.  We need to begin to follow our own instincts, and allow our children to follow theirs.  Frankly, we need to remember to simply get out of the way and let our children move, play, explore, experiment and FAIL, and then allow them the gift of learning to pick themselves up again.  

{Oh, and the best part purchase necessary.}