Weekend Review: Into the Minds of Babes by Lisa Guernsey
I've often taken it as a forgone conclusion that TV, and most screen time in general, is "bad" for very young children. This notion most likely stems from the American Association of Pediatricians recommendation that children under the age of 2 not be allowed any screen time at all. Lisa Guernsey, a journalist with two young daughters, heard these same warnings, but found herself turning to the television for an occasional way to fill her kids' time or just to get a break for half an hour. She started to wonder, "was she a bad mom for doing so?" In Into the Minds of Babes: How screen time affects children from birth to age five (2007), Guernsey consults with education and child development experts, mines the published research (what little of it there is), and interviews a range of families on how they actually use screens (TV, computer, e-readers, etc.) in the home. The result is a thoughtful exploration of real concerns that actual parents have about the effect (or lack thereof) of screens on their children's development.
The book is arranged topically with each section headed by a parental concern, such as "can electronic media enrich my child's vocabulary?" or "will screen time make my children fat?" She then methodically goes through the available research on the topic and comes to some sort of conclusion. Her advice really isn't that surprising and there are no real ground-breaking reveals here. Throughout, she encourages parents to use the "3 C's" to inform their TV choices: content, context, and the individual child.
On the one hand, I found this book helpful because it wasn't coming from a scientist or someone else who has a definite point of view to push. Guernsey really is just a mom who wants to do right by her children. But this point of view is also what made this book, overall, somewhat forgettable to me. While Guernsey concludes that TV, in general, won't do irreparable harm to our kids, there also aren't any real benefits to it either. While it has been shown to increase things like vocabulary, it still pales in comparison to real life human interaction and teaching. So, we're not going to scar our young kids (even the very young ones under the age of 2) by popping in a Blues Clues video occasionally, but we're also not going to create Nobel laureates by feeding them a diet of Baby Einstein videos either. Yup. Got it. And the rule at our house is still going to be that the TV will not be on while the baby is awake. For me, this is more about the TV distracting Steve and I from being attentive parents than it is about the screen itself being a harmful influence. But then again, this could all change once there is actually a baby in the house...