While the Greedy Merchandisers of Children’s Electronic Entertainment Are Counting Their Shekels, Their Viewers—or So It Appears to Grammie and Me—Are Simply Learning to Count

I see by today’s New York Times that there is a hubbub brewing over whether electronic entertainment is a good thing or a bad thing for infants and toddlers.

That there is a hubbub over the issue of whether electronic entertainment is a good or a bad thing doesn’t surprise me one iota. As a society, we still haven’t decided whether electronic entertainment is a good or bad thing for adults yet, much less children.

But for the past three years and a few days, give or take about four months when the subject of the experiment was temporarily ensconced elsewhere, Grammie (as she was quickly named by the youngest speaker of our house) and Pappaw (yours truly) and the subject’s parents have all had a ringside seat to the question: “See Baby Watch, Touch, Giggle, Point at and Leave Fingerprints on the Screen. But Does Baby Get It?”

From the moment he was able to sit erect, our young grandson Ian has been an avid consumer of, progressively, Baby Einstein, Baby Mozart, Baby Shakespeare, The Best of Elmo, Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type, Chica Chicka Boom Boom, train videos, firehouse videos, puppet videos, farm videos and just about anything else that got passed the approval standards of the adults in his life. (It was mostly Grammie’s standards; she’s the one who scours garage sales, library sales and thrift shops to wag in videos by the car trunk fulls.)

What he “got” out of the videos we’ll never really be able to pin down. Because the videos were simply part of a much broader, much deeper environment of stimulation and learning that, given the presence of four adults in his life around the clock, he has been subjected to. But we were not startled when we first realized that he knew his ABCs or that he’d learned to count to 70 long before we remember our own children being able to do so. After all, by then, he’d spent hours watching and listening to the alphabet and the numbers being endlessly explored on the screen.

We would certainly not want his only outlet on the world to be the boob tube or computer screen. But then, as already noted, it is anything but.

Yesterday, his Grammie was driving him home from day care. Ian noticed a school bus.

“Grammie,” he said, “there’s children on the bus.”

Grammie is quick as a woodpecker’s beak to spot an opportunity. She replied, “Oh, really. Do you think they are riding with their mommies and daddies?”

After a moment, he answered, “No.”

“Well, do you think they are riding alone?””

He thought about it.

“No,” replied, “they are riding by themselves.”

I don’t know what an exchange like that is worth in the life of the mind of a child but I like the looks of it. Perhaps the children’s video producers should do a video called “Ian’s Grammie Takes a Drive,” but as long as Grammie is around, there’s no need to. Grammie is much better at the task of teaching. But then Grammie or Pappaw or Mommy or Daddy can’t be there every moment, even if they are pretty much around 24/7, and that’s when, in my opinion, the electronic entertainment does have its uses and make its contributions.

The one thing I really don’t like about the children’s video movement is the greed of the promoters and marketers of the products.

For example, Ian’s latest video obsession will come as no surprise to anyone who has young kids. It involves Greg, Murray, Anthony, Jeff, Dorothy the Dinoasur, Wags the Dog, Henry the Octopus and Captain Feathersword. The Wiggles, in other words.

Out of curiosity, I went to the Web site of the fabulously successful Australian music group with the young fan base. And frankly, the degree of commercialization is a bit over the top. Well, nauseating, actually. Maybe there’s a cultural thing that I just don’t get about how the Aussies promote things, but I don’t really think so. I think this is just what the sons and daughters of Disney and DreamWorks and the rest of Hollywood and its now worldwide counterparts do when they strike gold in the consciousnesses of millions of onlookers’ minds, young or old.

(You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at the Wiggles’ online merchandising showroom “The Wiggles” and you can decide for yourself.)

But as I watch Ian dance with the Wiggles and listen to him sing their songs in a seemingly never-ending sing along, my sense is unshakable that the experience is triggering synapses and laying down neural pathways that would likely not have been activated this way or this thoroughly without the benefit and assistance of electronic entertainment.

By all means, I want the researchers to learn all they can about what all this video watching means to a child. But I think the verdict is already in on the question “But Does Baby Get It?

Assuredly, baby gets something—and likes it and benefits from it.

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