Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2003 / 28 Shevat, 5763
A baby can learn a lot from TV
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I know I don't have a baby, but suppose I did. And suppose the state let me keep it. So there's my baby, lying innocently in its cradle, able to set things on fire by looking at them. And I need to have him raised quickly and easily while I'm busy with my life's mission of getting drunk and phoning radio stations. What am I supposed to do?
I should do what normal people do, of course, and plunk the kid down in front of a television until he's old enough to get up, button his own shirt and join a longshoreman's union. Why not? My theoretical child seems happy enough - staring at the screen, clapping his little hands, playing with the channel changer until he finds a rerun of Goodfellas.
But now experts in child-rearing - who apparently got together and decided that parents still have some self-confidence left - have said this is bad. They tell us that children may learn the wrong things.
In a study published in the journal Child Development, a research team led by Donna Mumme, assistant professor of psychology at Tufts University in Boston, concluded that babies are influenced by the emotional reactions of actors, just like they are by their parents.
Basically, a baby doesn't know how to react to a lot of things emotionally until it sees what people around it do. If a fire breaks out, it's really neither here nor there to a baby until it sees its parents get upset. A toddler will think, "Say, that Donovan McNabb looks like a pretty fair athlete," until it notices that all the adults nearby are running around waving their arms in shock and panic.
Well it turns out that a 12-months-old child who is watching television will look to the actors for the same kind of cues. If characters in a drama react with suspicion and fear to veteran actress Lesley Ann Warren, a baby will do the same, and perhaps continue to do so throughout its life, leaving Ms. Warren with an eerie power over a generation of children who happened to have caught her on one particularly tense episode of Columbo.
But the way I see it, how can learning be "wrong"? How can knowledge be "bad"? Huh? Tell me that.
Not only are many important lessons available on television, but many of them are only available on television. These are things your child might otherwise not learn about life, even by observing life itself:
Twelve laws of TV land
01/17/03: Journalism at its finest!