14 posts categorized "Television"

Screen Time and Family Screen Policy

January 30, 2014

I just watched a New York Times mini-documentary on China's Web Junkies, and it simply shocked me.

I don't spend much time fearing things, but internet addiction in kids/teens really scares me. Ever since I read a research-based article connecting the Thurston High School shooter to heavy usage of violent video games, I've made a commitment to never allowing violent games in our home. "Using" the internet has all the makings for a serious addiction: easy access, mindless pleasure and a way to fill the void inside. As the video clearly shows, loneliness is both the root and the outcome of craving connection through the internet. If we're honest, many of us parents are already addicted. I know I am on some level. Email and the worldwide web were emerging as I began my career, and I've never worked without the company of a computer. Now I can/need to view my three email accounts from my phone and research anything that pops into my mind. Facebook can be all too tempting, as it does serve as a social medium for staying connected with my friends in town and across the globe. There can be pure joy found in heartwarming messages that come at just the right moment. But, in my opinion, connecting socially online shouldn't happen while your kids are craving your attention.

As busy parents, I don't expect anyone to go offline, but its important to become aware of our usage in the presence of our kids. We are settling the cultural norm by demonstrating our values. If we don't give our kids the deep and genuine attention they crave now, it's all too likely that they will turn to the internet or other addictions when they grow up. If you're following my new blog, you'll know that my family recently drafted our first Family Screen Policy.

Despite his friends getting vastly more screen time, our does son seem very satisfied with earning a limited amount through reading. Our kids are still way more interested in sports, making art and getting outside, but at least now we both have some guidance about when it's allowed. I've also found that I'm walking my talk more now and fighting the impulse to check-in online when the kids are around. Does your family have a screen policy? Have you witnessed or felt addicted to the internet? How important (or challenging) is it for you to unplug?

This is guest post by Darcy Cronin, a mother of three, blogger, and small business adventurer. Darcy became certified as a Simplicity Parenting Coach to help busy families create paths toward meaningful values and more sustainable lifestyles. Follow her blog and sign up for workshops at Darcy's Utopia.

Friday Family Movie Night: Babies and Screens

October 21, 2011

While it would be a stretch to say my kids' screentime is very limited, when my husband is away (in the military, he's currently serving the second of two one-year tours in Kuwait) the TV is usually off. The boys might watch a half-hour or hour on school days, and usually go on a Saturday morning Pokemon and Ben 10 jag if we're home. There's Friday night movie night -- which we'll skip on particularly exhausting weeks. Of course, I don't have a baby, but when Think Out Loud came on this Friday morning, discussing new AAP recommendations that parents with kids under two limit the TV to zero, I immediately thought back to my very different household when my boys were babies and toddlers; in a word, TV rich.

My husband grew up in a household where TV was on all the time, and his young adulthood, when he lived with his siblings, only reinforced this habit. It's hard to get the TV off in my house when he's around, and more so when the kids were younger and he had the (according to the AAP, highly mistaken) viewpoint that they wouldn't watch the TV if it wasn't meant for them. So, my boys grew up, likewise, to the sound of Law & Order and NCIS and other procedural dramas. I'm going to paraphrase the guest on TOL, University of Washington professor of medicine Dimitri Christakis: this is keeping us all from paying attention to our kids and interacting in the way babies need. "It holds your attention," he said, mentioning studies that show how hard it is for us to see anything else when the TV is on.

I had to laugh, a little, when another caller asked the question I was about to ask (as I washed dishes and listened to NPR instead of interacting with my own kids), is radio just as bad? How about NPR? Christakis kind of skirted that question, by emphasizing the difference between TV and music radio -- it's the visual part of TV that sucks us in.

What we get from this new recommendation is not much different in tone than the message in the SpongeBob study: when we're turning the TV on to get something done, it's not good for the kids. We should be interacting with them instead of setting them in front of the tube. Christakis said that he gets all the time, "but how am I supposed to make dinner if I don't turn on the TV?" His answer: parents for millennia have been making dinner without TV, and with current estimates on how much TV kids are actually watching -- it's four or five hours for many toddlers (a DAY, and I know there have been times when that has been the reality in my house, and it kills me to think of it) -- he asks, "how much of a break do parents need?" Kids this age are, after all, only awake for 10 or 12 hours a day.

On one hand, I agree with a friend on Facebook, who (and I know her son watches little TV, comparatively) took the radio program as opportunity to tell all the parents she knows that they're doing a great job and can just stop listening to the media criticism of the job they're doing (thank you!). On the other hand, I want to agree with Christakis. Really, I don't need that much of a break from my kids. And honestly -- they're fine without screens. They can occupy themselves for hours with sticks and a field of grass, or pinecones and fences to climb, or the room full of Hot Wheels and Thomas trains and dress-up clothes and stuffed animals. I get plenty of break (during which I can wash dishes, do laundry, and make dinner all I want. Yay!).

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TV Study: SpongeBob's Bad

September 19, 2011

There was a study several years ago that made the rounds when my oldest was in prime Nick Jr.-watching age; it was the basis for the AAP recommendation that kids two and under watch no TV, or, failing that, very very little. The study basically found that all TV was bad for little kids' brains, and it didn't matter what it was; Sesame Street, SpongeBob, and Law & Order were all equally brain-rotting, in this study's opinion. This was the inspiration for lots of mama guilt (both personal and universal), and some grumbling about the poor study design; it was, for instance, based entirely on parental report of both quantity and content of TV, as well as the children's resultant behavior and school performance. Were the kids with difficult behavior and poor school performance really watching PBS for two hours a day -- or WWE for six hours a day? And were the guilt-ridden mamas whose kids watched PBS over-reporting the behavior out of some kind of morose ethical code? Causation, too, was an issue; maybe the kids with poor school performance all lived closer to high-traffic streets, or were all suffering from imperfect nutrition. The study, while striking, was hardly clear evidence.

Enter better (if not exactly clear) evidence. A new study from the University of Virginia [pdf link] published in the September 12 issue of the Pediatrics journal showed that it does make a difference what the young children watch, and specifically, preschool-aged children were shown episodes of Caillou (the almost moronically peaceful, sweet show about a little boy shown on PBS) and SpongeBob SquarePants (I think you know). The control group drew pictures independently. There was only nine minutes of the TV, but the fast-paced SpongeBob immediately impacted childrens' "executive function" -- self-regulation and working memory.

The problem wasn't the slapstick content and the ridiculous jokes (honestly, I've grown to appreciate SpongeBob's unusual humor). It was the part that makes me crazy when I'm listening from the other room -- the frequent changes in scene, about every 11 seconds, compared to 34 seconds for Caillou. Researchers theorized that this fast pace impaired children's brain function. It's worth noting that defenders have sprung up to compare this study to one 1970s comparison of fast- and slow-paced episodes of Sesame Street (the control group was read to by parents), which held that pace had no impact on children's attention spans. "...there’s no telling which characteristics of the programs might have affected the children’s thinking," wrote editors on a Bloomberg editorial. "Could it be that the children were slow to settle down and get to work because SpongeBob is funny and they were energized by laughter? As much as we respect all forms of expression, it’s safe to say that Caillou is not particularly funny, and it’s easy to see how kids could turn from watching it to performing serious tasks without needing a moment to recover." And another critical article noted that the survey was statistically flawed; "Compared to drawing, kids in the SpongeBob group did worse when the researchers measured these executive function areas — attention, working memory, and problem solving. But compared to the kids who watched the other cartoon, there was no statistical difference between the two groups of kids. When a researcher says something 'approached significance,' that’s a squishy research term to say, 'Well, it's not significant, but it's darned close.'"

Given the usual skepticism about making generalizations about small groups of children watching two very different programs, this is still something I've long been concerned about, though not with such clarity. My kids had some unexpected response to a zoomy, fast-paced movie made for 3D when we saw it in the theatre (How to Train Your Dragon). I was boggled by how often the scene changed; sometimes the pace was so fast I found myself ducking, or squeezing my eyes shut. It overwhelmed me. On the way home, we endured some of the worst meltdowns I'd seen from my kids -- simultaneously, at least -- in months.

I'm not banning SpongeBob, but it's useful to observe the reactions of my kids to various intensities of TV. Johnny Test, for instance, is hilarious -- but the sound of it destroys my own brain function. If it's on, there's no way I can write anything intelligent. Same goes for lots of Cartoon Network shows (and, let's be honest, Sid the Science Kid, which I've never cared for). I'll keep this sort of content to a minimum for my kids; it's not going to rot their brains permanently, probably, but it's certainly not going to give their brains a rich and nurturing environment for creating positive change in the world.

Friday Family Movie Night: Tangled

September 02, 2011

When Tangled was coming out into movie theatres, I was reading (in a late-night rush) the sassy, beautifully-drawn graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge. In a fit of hopefulness, I decided the Disney movie must be based on the graphic novel -- it, set in the old West, gave Rapunzel a whole different mien. No naive and helpless girl wasting away in a tower, Shannon Hale's Rapunzel is fantastic with rope work (using her hair, naturally) and as handy as MacGyver. She's a cowgirl, and Jack, the male "lead," is an amalgam of the Jacks of fairy tale lore -- and not nearly so fearless and skilled as the heroine.


While there are similarities in the two -- Disney's Rapunzel also uses her hair like a lasso, and both handsome rescuing types are thieves seeking to get enormous chips off their shoulders -- this is no competent, fearless, feminist heroine. Nope: this is classic Disney, with the Grimm storyline shook up a lot so that we can make her a princess. Most of the Rapunzel origin stories have the girl's parents cast as poor, ordinary folk (although her savior is typically a prince), and her father, not a king, but a thief, forced by his wife's terrible cravings for greens (variously, rapunzel, rampion radishes, and lamb's lettuce, which grows wild in my garden, mama!) to climb Mother Gothel's wall and steal them. He is found out and the baby, surrendered as punishment.

This Mother Gothel is more foraging naturalist than enchantress, and the mom's pregnant craving is not for spinach-like leaves, but for healing from a terrible illness. The only substance that can heal her is a magic flower, one Gothel has been keeping under wraps in order to remain forever young. (Young-ish -- the transformed Gothel reminds me of Cher in her late fifties.) When the flower is accidentally left uncovered, the good people of Rapunzel's nation find it, healing her mother and embuing the child with the flower's magical powers.

Gothel, learning that Rapunzel's hair is her power as long as it remains uncut, steals her and secrets her away in the fairy tale tower. In order to maintain her evil aura despite depriving her of magic powers, Disney makes Mother Gothel passive-aggressive, controlling and emotionally manipulative. She is the ultimate bad mom. (And, honestly, this makes her much creepier than some simple cackling, potions and curses might.)

Rapunzel is Disney Princess through-and-through. She's got it all: progenic, creative talent (painting and star-charting); enormous oft-blinking eyes; bouncy pastel wardrobe; cute, supportive and intelligent small animal sidekick (Pascal, a chameleon who sounds like a squeaky toy); uncannily winning ways; clever, spunky dialogue.

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Friday Family Movie Night: Toy Story 3

August 26, 2011

As I was graduating from high school when the first Toy Story zoomed out into the world with its trademark gleeful spirit of everyday magical realism, I haven't watched any of this series as a new release. But I first thought of the series as something to appreciate as more than a kids' blockbuster when my then-co-writer for the Wharton Follies (a kind of Saturday Night Live / parody musical for business school students) took her little brother to Toy Story II. Liz couldn't stop talking about how clever it was: when Mrs. Potato Head told her husband, "I packed your angry eyes!" Liz rolled with laughter.

Still, it would be many years later, until I myself had children, before I first watched the original and sequel to the Toy Story franchise. I was charmed, of course, and dressed Everett in a homemade Buzz Lightyear costume at age four. We began to "collect" Woody and Josie dolls from the Goodwill Bins. When Toy Story 3 came out, I watched Twitter reports from friends across the country, who universally said "I cried." Oh no. I didn't need a tearjerking magical talking toy movie.

I'm still not quite sure why I was so reluctant, but I finally agreed to see it when my boys begged me for a Friday family movie night this spring. Toy Story 3 begins in a very different place than the other movies, reflecting the time that's passed in the real world; Andy, now out of high school, is headed toward college, and his toys have (up until the movie's opening) become accustomed to life as toys rarely played with. Even his kid sister is barely interested in Barbies any more; and, his mother tells him, it's time to give it up. He needs to pack, store, or throw away his toys.

The next few scenes could have been written by anyone who's seen 20 minutes of Toy Story; Andy, after some consideration, becomes nostalgic, puts Woody in his box to head to college and the rest of his beloved toys in a bag to take to the attic. But, he's distracted, and the bag is taken away by his mother -- Woody, fearing for his friends, bravely abandons his cushy retirement to a shelf in the dorm and dives in to save them. In a hurtling, flying, impossible few scenes, he manages to keep everyone from the actual trash (this will become a nailbiting and recurring theme that could look like so many tussles between family members -- save the toys from the garbage!), and instead, the toys end up in a day care.

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Friday Family Movie Night: My Neighbor Totoro

August 12, 2011

The second step of my love affair with Hayao Miyazaki is what many describe as his best work, the 1993 My Neighbor Totoro. As with Ponyo, the movie explores -- no, celebrates -- what it is to believe in magic. And yet this is not Disney magic, with wands and tiaras and beautiful flowing-haired-but-nubile teen stars. This is a delightful, screaming, four-year-old magic, the incantation only gratitude and respect, the fairy dust soot and dirt and acorns.

My Neighbor Totoro
is the story of a family. Father, the eight- or nine-year-old Satsuke, and the three-year-old Mei move to the country, and slowly we discover that they have done so because their mother is very ill, and her hospital is nearby. From the opening scenes we discover that none of these people are made-for-TV; the moving truck is so overloaded that the girls must stay in the back, and their delight about everything is tempered, of course, by the idea that a policeman might see them and give their father a ticket. In an American movie, this would be a judgment; in Miyazaki, it is a celebration. The girls and their father exuberantly tumble and caper into their new home, which would in another context be a dump; here, it is a source of unending joy.

Everything about the father's relationship with the girls is so tender and reverent. When they say they have seen "little black things! Like bugs, but bigger!" he does not assume they were actually bugs. "Soot gremlins?" he asks. The next door neighbor, "Granny," tells the girls that she, too, saw soot sprites when she was a little girl -- enjoying the little Mei, whose hands and feet are somehow covered in soot and who runs right into her, screams and runs away. Everything that the adults suggest comes true, and only the girls can see it; the soot sprites move away when they see that the family is taking good care of the house.

In another scene, the father is bathing with the children, and this becomes natural and masculine; in still another, Father puts Mei on his towel-wrapped bike bar, with Satsuke standing behind him, as they ride to the hospital to visit mother.

The totoros are not encountered until later, and it is Mei who discovers them -- first a baby, then a small one, and chasing these two leads to the enormous totoro -- the titular neighbor. Totoro helps fearless Mei express her powerlessness over her mother's illness, and helps Satsuke believe that her contributions do make a difference -- and gives her someone to care for her when she is putting the weight of her little family on her own shoulders.

It is a beautiful movie, luminous and filled with heart and beauty. Everything is examined with a quiet, soft light; nothing is found wanting. Even when Satsuke lashes out in anger, it is not the sudden flame-and-apology that most children's movies do so pat, it is the complex simultaneous helpless rage and compassion that more true characters feel.

We got this movie on a Monday, and watched it that night, as we had missed Friday movie night the weekend prior. By Thursday, we had watched it five times; each time, it only got better. I love this movie; and so do we all.

Friday Family Movie Night: Ramona and Beezus

July 29, 2011

When Portland learned that Ramona Quimby would be modernized and done up all High School Musical-style (with a Beezus, Selena Gomez, straight from a starring role on the Disney Channel), there was excitement at first -- Klickitat Street, on the big screen! -- and then disappointment. Other than a few establishing shots, the movie was filmed entirely in Vancouver, B.C., where they have all the movie fun. (But at least we get to be Boston in Leverage, so there.) And there was the usual concern about reflecting the book. Would it be faithful? Would it be good?

Well, it definitely wasn't faithful to the book series, at least not in a way that any Ramona fan would deem acceptable. Charming and fun and faithful to the mood and episodic style of the books, though, sure. Though the movie is titled "Ramona and Beezus," it's nothing like the first book of the Ramona series which shares its title. Instead, the book is set roughly in the time of both Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Forever, mashed up, with a Beezus from Ramona's World (15 and spouting French to annoy her sister) and the family makeup from Ramona and Her Mother.

20th Century Fox

It's this mashup that gives the movie its inner life, and also its contradictions. Ramona is, as in the book series, always screwing up situations because of her active imagination, impatience, and earnest belief in the magnitude of her own actions. She gets angry at her family and squirts an entire toothpaste tube into the sink. She is made fun of at school and exacerbates the problem by trying to crack a boiled egg on her head -- and having it turn out to have been raw. (Oops. And it's picture day.) She hears that the situation with the family's home is precarious, so she starts a lemonade stand to earn money to "save" it.

The central story line from Ramona and Her Father -- that her father has lost his job and is trying without much luck to find a new one -- is here, and is so modern it might as well have been written, well, today. This week even. The romance between Aunt Bea and Ramona's friend Howie's uncle Hobart is darling, if a little obvious (in both versions), but the real sweetness is between Aunt Bea and Ramona; a sweetness the viewer is meant to believe, Ramona needs desperately. Can she afford to live without it? She's odd girl out in her house. Beezus is the responsible older sister -- who, as in the first book in the series, has no patience for Ramona's pestiness, and tortures her. Baby sister Willa Jean is just adorable, even when she's putting applesauce on her head. Dad is achey-breaky-unemployed and mom is working overtime. How's she going to survive without Aunt Bea?

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Friday Family Movie Night: Ponyo

July 22, 2011

I had been sold a dozen times over on Hayao Miyazaki's work before Ponyo came out in 2009; a friend was so enthralled with My Neighbor Totoro that she held a special showing at the Clinton Street. But I was skeptical; I'm not generally a fan of kids' movies that anthropormorphize -- especially, I thought, fish. How bizarre was that? A little boy falling in love with a fish?

Besides, everyone said, My Neighbor Totoro was way, way better. So I put it off, skipping it in the theaters (as I usually do), and always turning away from opportunities to see it on the small screen. Finally, one night, nothing else appeared to strike our fancy, so the boys and I tried it On Demand. I was -- to use an eye-rollingly appropriate figure of speech -- swept away.

When it comes down to it, I do love magical realism, and Miyazaki is such a master of the form that I found I was quickly able to set aside my quibbles with the practicality of boy+fish love (especially at such a young age!) and just fall head over heels for the lush-but-dark world he paints. The boys were no less adoring of the characters and style than I. We all stayed rapt through the very end of the movie, the credits, and then we rewound to listen to the theme song again (Ponyo, Ponyo, tiny little fish! She's a little fish from the deep blue sea!).


As the movie opens, five-year-old Sosuke finds a goldfish trapped in a bottle. She is, however, one of hundreds of sister-goldfish who are the daughters of a wild red-headed magician and a luminous sea-goddess. Ponyo -- Sosuke's name for her -- is a formidable child, and steals magic from her father to return to Sosuke. This magic, unleashed, creates a universal imbalance; threatening Sosuke, his mother, and father, a sailor who's gone out for an extra trip.

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Friday Family Movie Night: How to Train Your Dragon, Movies in the Parks

July 15, 2011

Are you a Netflix subscriber? If you're like just about every urbanMama or dad I know, you probably are, and you may be shaking your fist in the general direction of Netflix headquarters thanks to the price changes (you say "increase," they say "lowest prices ever") announced this week. When I wrote a post about it for WalletPop, after "library" the first great free alternative that sprung to mind was the ultimate big-screen, close-to-home experience: Movies in the Park. No: it's not streaming over your internet, it's not something you can pause while you answer the phone. But as a family entertainment experience, a Friday Family Movie Night like no other, it's as good as it gets.

Portland Parks scatters its free movie nights around the city and lets neighborhood boards weigh in on the movie selection. There is something for everyone; vintage Oregon favorites like The Goonies (Sellwood Park, Sunday, July 31); brand new movies like Karate Kid (the one with Will Smith's kid, Knott Park, Saturday, July 16); adult recent releases that may have been on your own Netflix queue, like The King's Speech (Laurelhurst Park, Friday, July 29) and The Social Network (Laurelhurst Park, Saturday, August 27). There is the climbing wall for the afternoon preceding most showings, often free popcorn or other goodies, and local bands. With Tangled (Glenfair Park, Tuesday, August 2; Hazeltine Park, Sunday, August 14), a hair styling and braiding competition. I've only been to a few of these showings over the past few years, but everyone who's gone to one agrees: it's like a block party or a truly old-fashioned drive-in movie theatre, where families show up with wagons and picnic baskets and blankets to share with young singles and older couples, babies fall asleep on their fathers' shoulders and get walked home while their mother and siblings watch the end of the show. It's as Norman Rockwell as you can get, with a big screen movie.

How to Train Your Dragon is showing several times this summer, and as it's a movie my family saw and loved, I'll review it with this column, too. (And oh yes: How to Train Your Dragon is not available streaming on Netflix, for the record.)

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Are you, will you, 'Portlandia'?

January 21, 2011

I've only watched the prior-to-premiere videos, but from what I've seen, urbanMamas resembles Portlandia very much. The new short IFC series -- six 30-minute episodes -- skewers everything we know, love, hate, and are in Portland: even our very own logos (yep, we've got a bird on it, several in fact!). Tonight's episode, up at 7:30, evidently will poke fun at the very Portland practice of knowing very very very much about where our food comes from.

Can I talk? I've got spaghetti sauce on the stove; the pork comes from Tails and Trotters, whose butchers-in-chief I've chatted with on many occasions. The mushrooms come from a buying club and they are definitely local. I canned the tomatoes, and they're heirloom, and from a nearby farm, and I grew the garlic. I'm wearing a thrifted apron and awesome brand-new pants from a free pile (brand-new to me, anyway). I just cut my boys' hair, not too short, in my living room. I'm treading on thin ice, though, by eating spaghetti from a package, avec gluten... it's whole wheat and organic though!

It's fun to make fun of ourselves sometimes, and I'll surely take the first opportunity to watch it (on Hulu?). The ironic thing (or one of them) is that it's really not very Portland to have cable, and even regular cable packages don't include IFC. And I have to admit, I wish a tiny bit that someone who is actually from Portland had written this. [Note, edited: Carrie, as I learned, has lived in Portland for several years, though the rest of the show's writers haven't.] Will Fred & Carrie miss all the truly Portland things to laugh at? Will the comedy hurt? Are they stealing "that's so Portland," the thing we always say to ourselves when we see two guys on tall bikes dressed in hipster-thrift store-Santa suits giving big cans of Pabst to homeless guys on Christmas afternoon, and turn it into "that's so Portlandia"? Will we, as one person who posted on the Facebook page suggests, be truly Portland by already being "over" the show after two episodes?


note: that first picture is amazingly, everything Portlandia pokes fun at. That's at the farmer's market on a Saturday last fall before Thanskgiving. That woman has an appliqued bird on her sweatshirt. No one is using an umbrella. And they all have their locally-roasted direct trade drip-on-demand artisan coffee in hand...

Dear Disney: You didn't make my baby into Einstein

October 26, 2009

I should have known better; after all, I myself graduated from a couple of rigorous post-high school academic programs. But still, I bought the concept (literally and figuratively) that the Baby Einstein series of DVDs would provide my first son a richer babyhood. I never really thought he'd be made into a certified genius by watching DVDs, but I did think he'd at least pick up some minor smarts from exposure to this heady stuff.

The 'Language Nursery' one had me most enchanted; until I started watching it and wondered, how is this going to teach my baby languages, again? The video consisted mostly of just throwing words and nursery songs at kids without any accompanying explanation. "Frère Jacques," for instance, was accompanied by video of little hands playing with bright-colored toys (now I wonder, darkly, if they were painted with lead-based paint). I could neither understand nor participate; there was no translation, not even a rundown of the lyrics of the lullabies sung in other languages. Later I'd read that there was no worse way to teach children languages than to expose them utterly without context.

We sold our Baby Einstein DVDs on eBay before my second baby was born, and later we learned that, indeed, Baby Einstein videos were not only based on zero infant developmental science but were proven not to make one smarter. The AAP came out with a recommendation that children under two not be exposed to television or DVDs at all. This weekend, the news was even more thundering: after being threatened with a class action lawsuit for false and deceptive advertising (to the most impressionable and defenseless consumers of all, I'd add: new parents), Disney agreed to refund consumers' money for their purchases, should they want it back, $15.99 for up to four Baby Einstein DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009, and returned to the company.

That won't provide any monetary help for me... my videos were purchased before June 2004. But that's not really my biggest concern; it's that millions were made deceiving parents about what's good for their babies. "Fostering parent-child interaction always has and always will come first at The Baby Einstein Company, and we know that there is an ongoing discussion about how that interaction is best promoted," said a Disney spokesperson. No, there's no such discussion. We all know now that having a baby watch other babies play with other parents on a screen doesn't teach him or her anything. Actually playing with your baby... interacting on his level sans screentime... is the best way to promote interaction. And it doesn't require a single Disney product, or Mattel, or Hasbro, or Melissa & Doug, or even the super-natural Waldorf toy companies like Maine Toys.

I'd certainly be ill-advised to judge anyone for using so-called "educational" shows to occupy my young children when I'm losing it. A sane mom with kids in front of the TV is probably better than a shouting, hair-tearing mom without a screen in sight. But this whole story provides a lens into the enormous industry of selling intelligence to new parents. With brand names like IQ Baby and Baby Scholars and Neurosmith, it doesn't take a genius to understand how we're being subtly manipulated to feel this will actually separate the eventual results of our children's IQ tests.

It's good to know that baby play is the great economic equalizer: no parent, given the most vast amount of resources imaginable, has a leg up over another parent unless the amount of time he or she can devote to the baby is greater. (I know: this isn't always true given the paucity of maternity leave in our country and the frequent economic necessity of mom working.) But it's important to underscore that, given two at-home parents, one with barely enough money to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked, the other with plentiful disposable income and the entire Baby Einstein oeuvre, both are entirely equally equipped to make their babies smart.

Oh, TV, how do I love thee?

June 23, 2009


Let me count thy ways! I love you when it's 5:45 am and all three of my children are awake and I've had not more than 2 consecutive hours of sleep all night.  I love you when I'm trying to put my youngest down for a nap and the two boys are a t each other's throats.  I love you when I've spent 11 hours straight with all of my children and am trying to get a dinner for them on the table while willing my husband to walk in the door from work.

But in all seriousness, this mama is trying to reduce her TV-dependent ways.  I feel fine about the content (mostly PBS and Noggin), but on any given day, my kids could get 90 minutes of television given the scenarios above.  Something that I'm not sure will actually harm them, but it causes me more guilt than I'd like, so we're weaning ourselves off the boob tube.  Mamas, how do you deal with moments like the ones above where a parent might be tempted to just turn on the electric babysitter?

Law & Order stirs vaccination pot

April 29, 2009

I have vaccinated all my three boys more or less on schedule, but it is more inertia than science; when Everett was born, I wasn't in a community that questioned vaccinations (my husband's best man was a pharmaceutical sales rep, for one), and it wasn't until later that I started wondering if filling babies full of toxins was really the best approach. By then, it was almost time for public school, and I didn't want to face filling out forms stating my "religious" refusal for one child, but not another.

But I know lots of you urbanMamas don't vaccinate; parts of Oregon have some of the highest rates of vaccination avoiders in the country. And last night on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I felt as if I was seeing one of my friends on trial. After an 11-month-old died from measles -- and her mom, a distracted and turbulent Hillary Duff, buried her in a parking lot, thinking she'd killed her -- it was decided that the real "culprit" was a mom who'd decided not to vaccinate her son. The baby and the little boy had been at the same playground after he'd been infected by an Amish teen with measles. The city of New York put the non-vaccinating mom on trial for murder. Seriously?

Not only were non-vaccinators called out in scathing tones for their lack of medical degrees and their dispassioned uncaring for all others ("I don't make choices for those kids!" said the mom shrilly), but the way the writers portrayed the woman was unforgivable; on the stand, she goes on a rant claiming that the baby would have died anyway, because Hillary Duff's character was a "bad mom" (true, but really) and she was a "good mom" and thus she deserved to get off. She did, much to the disgust of most of the SVU crew, who kvetched about how she'd gotten away with murder. The ending was too complicated and horrifying to describe here.

I was shocked that such an extreme viewpoint, which took the "mommy wars" media invention and ran with it in the ugliest way, was firmly established by a TV show I've often loved as the moral right. Did you watch the show? What did you think? Will you be watching Law & Order again?

Video Games: Friend or Foe?

January 21, 2009

Video gameIt seemed innocent enough when my husband first announced to the kids, “let’s look at Nick Jr. on the computer.”  But the ensuing addiction to the video games (albeit Blues Clues and Dora) has reached fever pitch for my 4 and almost 6 year old sons and has turned me into mean ol’ mama for having to say no to their requests, every. single. hour. 

It probably doesn’t help that our computer armoire is just 5 feet from the dining room table and they see me checking email constantly throughout the day.  While logically I equate both computer and television as screen time to be limited, I’ve realized that I’m more leery of video games because I’m projecting 10 years down the road when I imagine the games of steeling cars and shooting bad guys.   Maybe I think I can prevent that by pretending that video games don't even exist!  Do you let your kids play video games?  What parameters do you put around them? How do you ensure they are age appropriate?