Educational Media and Our Children (Part 1)

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There are many millions of people who buy and use educational media products for their children and even their infants.  I wonder if the parents stop to think about how this honestly affects their children both good and bad.  The American Pediatric Association (APA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree that educational media can be beneficial to children when used in the proper context.  I fully agree with the idea, the problem is that many parents don’t follow the recommendations of groups such as the APA and AAP.  Either these parents believe that the advertisers who make these products know more about the development of children than the groups of people who have PhD’s and study how these things affect children, or they would just rather use educational media as a sort of baby-sitter because it makes them feel better about putting infants in front of a television if what they are putting them in front of is at least educational.  This is what I disagree with, programming our children to occupy themselves by sitting in front of television sets all day long.  Let’s get our children out from in front of the television sets and computers and let them learn and explore with their bodies and minds instead of watching someone else on a screen.
Guidelines written by the APA and the AAP suggest no television for children under the age of two.  They state that between birth and two years, children learn best from interaction with a parent or other caregiver rather than media sources.  Alissa Quart stated in her article Extreme Parenting that Charles Nelson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and permanent scholar of the infant brain, said “There is no proof of the value of the early-enrichment toys and videos in terms of brain science.”  In other words, there is no proof that these toys and videos will actually teach a child any better or any differently than they would have learned that same information from actual interaction with other human beings.  According to Quart, “in one study by a University of Massachusetts researcher, a sample group of infants learned to use a puppet from a live teacher, while another group studied a video.  The group who had a teacher learned to use the puppet almost immediately, but the video-watchers had to view the instruction six times before they learned the same skill.”  According to this study, infants learn better from interaction with other people than what they do from educational media which supports the claims of Charles Nelson.  Also, along the same lines as this idea, is that Thompson, Ross, and Yoshikawa from the group Zero to Three state that in their research they have found that when the adults in children’s lives make the viewing experience an interactive one, the children benefit more from it.  In other words, if we are going to have our young children watching TV or videos then we should share the experience with them to make it a more fulfilling and enriching one.  One way to do this would be to remind them of something that was watched together when it is seen somewhere aside from the video or TV program, or remind them while watching the video or program of the same thing seen elsewhere.
Every parent wants to give his or her children all the opportunities in the world.  All these early-enrichment companies know this and they try to use it to their advantage as much as possible.  They do this by playing on parents fears that many learning opportunities are time-limited to the first three years of life.  They speak of things like infant brain-cell death and limited brain plasticity.  As Quart says, “what they don’t tell us is that scientists have proven that the brain maintains at least some amount of plasticity throughout ones life.  They also don’t tell parents that according to many professionals; like Charles Zorn a neuropsychological education specialist; intelligence, knowledge, and ability to learn are not measured by brain cell counts.  Every time we learn something we are killing brain cells to create a pathway, cell death is how our nervous systems refine their circuits.  Therefore, reducing or preventing infant brain cell death is counter productive, contrary to what the educational media companies would have people believe.”  In other words, we have to kill brain cells to actually learn, that is just the way it works, and companies that tell us that we are not doing right by our children for letting their brain cells die off are just trying to play on parental fears to get more money.
These claims the co9mpanies have made, although proven scientifically inaccurate, have become popular belief and are enough to make any parent, especially new ones, nervous.  To gain an accurate perspective, one needs to separate themselves from popular ideas such as “brain plasticity”, “crucial stages”, and “imprinting”, since some of these only apply to learned activities that are experience-expectant (bound by crucial periods in an child’s life) and not to activities that are experience-dependant (not bound by any period), to look at the scientific side and take a look into history at some of the most intelligent people.  According to the article ”Was Einstein’s Brain Different” by the Center for History of Physics, Einstein himself didn’t speak until he was three and was still hesitant to speak at the age of 9.  Maybe there was a mild form of autism or maybe he was just shy, but either way, his parents feared that he was below average intelligence because of this.  This is a statistic that should prove to us that we need not push our children.  Einstein’s parents were wrong, and maybe we are too.  Yet, there is a company that has named their product after Einstein expecting us to believe that Einstein was in fact showing his extreme intelligence as early as infancy.  If we were in fact raising Baby Einstein’s as this product’s name suggests, then we wouldn’t be pushing our infants to do so much so early, we would have a world full of “late bloomers”.

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