April 23, 2009

Newsflash! TV Makes You Stupid!

     A concerned parent, Allen Kanner, wrote in the last 2008 Tikkun describing his (and his wife's) decision to raise their kids without TV. They want to shelter their children from the blizzard of corporate capitalist advertising, what Zappa called "the slime oozing out of your TV set." In particular, it's the "corporate materialism" the Kanners object to. Others have demonstrated a link between materialism and low self-esteem.
     But there seems to be another scary effect of TV programming, which is that kids don't know how to play. Teachers report kids don't know what to do with themselves when left alone during recess. Research indicates kids playing with toys they have seen on TV shows limit their play to just the stories shown on those TV shows.
     However, I'm not sure I totally agree with the Kanners' solution of total isolation, particularly as the child progresses toward puberty. I would install exactly one TV, and inoculate my kids by making fun of the ads - a form of play that will empower and sharpen growing minds. Pointing out the hypocrisy and greed that goes along with all that money seems a far more effective way to prepare children to avoid another market meltdown.
     I'm also not sure TV is the only villain here. Kids can't learn to play - or act - on their own if parents never leave them alone. Too many parents are too afraid to let their kids travel alone in their own towns, not to mention out in the woods. Again, inoculation is a better defense than too much protection. Gavin de Becker's book, "Protecting the Gift," has some great ideas about how to do this, from an author with substantial professional experience.

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