Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Characters & TV

Lately I've been thinking a lot about branded stuff and the impact of TV on Jacob. And quite frankly, I'm a little torn. The first time I really thought about this stuff was right before Jacob's birthday. We went to Party City to pick out decorations, and among them were some really cute Sesame Street-themed first birthday items. They were cute (despite my dislike of all things Elmo), but I decided against them, primarily because Jacob really isn't into that stuff. But then I got to thinking about it. Why isn't he into Sesame Street? Well, he's not home during the day when it's on TV. He has a couple books, but that probably doesn't carry the same impact as real, live puppets (is that an oxymoron?). He just hasn't had the opportunity to get sucked in...yet.

When it comes to TV in general, when we're home at night or on weekends the TV is generally tuned to what we want to watch. Why? Well, for one, Jacob doesn't have the attention span to sit and watch TV for long, so why leave it on a kid show when there's something else we'd rather be watching? And second, do I really want to encourage him to watch TV by putting on something he'd really like? The experts recommend against any TV until kids hit age 2. We're already going against the recommendations merely by having it on in the background (they say that the background noise, etc., makes kids less able to focus for long periods of time), but I'm still torn. Is it better to have something educational and kid-friendly on TV in the event Jacob does stop and watch it, or should we just leave it as is and hope he keeps ignoring it? When I used to have to put Jacob in the pack-n-play while I was getting ready in the morning, I used to leave the TV on Blue's Clues, my favorite kid show. While he wasn't watching it specifically, I figured that if he got bored with his toys and stood up to yell for us, maybe it would grab his attention and buy us a few more minutes. Maybe he'd like the songs or even learn something. It was hard to tell if he really ever paid attention, though. He's been sleeping later lately, so it hasn't been an issue for a while.

More recently, though, he's been watching a lot of baseball with Craig. It seems harmless enough. He never stares at it for more than 10 seconds or so at a time. I read somewhere once that babies don't have the ability to distinguish between reality and what they see on TV...so in their minds, if there's a monster on TV, that monster could come through the TV and into the living room. I told Craig that and he definitely cut down a bit on watching some of his movies while Jacob was around. Things like Star Wars and Indiana Jones seem harmless enough, particularly before Jacob's really able to take it all in, but when you look at it from a baby's perspective and ponder what he thinks when he sees explosions and things like that, it definitely makes you think twice.

But back to the branding issue...since he doesn't watch a lot of kid-themed TV, is he destined to be uninterested in characters? You only learn about stuff like that from TV, movies and toys (and perhaps books as well). He's got some Sesame Street books and a cool Cookie Monster puppet, and I'm sure at some point we'll get into movies as well. While I don't necessarily relish the thought of his wardrobe consisting of character-themed attire or having the house overrun with action figures, I also know that stuff like that can mold his identity a little bit. You know...He's a fan of _______. We'll know better what kind of gifts he might like, or what show to DVR for him when we need something on hand to keep him occupied. He'll be able to discuss it with his friends. And yes, I know that he can get into plenty of things that don't involve characters (ummm, baseball, perhaps?), but I wonder if it's still something we should encourage at some point to make sure he's a "normal" kid. I still don't want to leave him in front of the TV like a little zombie, but I'm sure those moments will come at some point no matter what. Heck, I watched a lot of TV as a kid. I usually played while I did it, though, and I think a lot of what I watched was at least partly educational (even game shows, to some degree). I turned out ok, but I can't vouch for the educational value of today's TV. I'm sure a lot of the kids stuff is great, but should I be worried that there are so many kids channels out there now that there's always something on? At least I resorted to other things when I eventually got bored. Hmmm.

It's interesting food for thought.

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