We’re one of those families that doesn’t have a television. But that doesn’t mean that my kids are free of the habit of sitting in rapt attention in front of a blaring screen with what we do have: DVDs and Internet. The way I see it, the computer-with-DVD-and-Internet option is better than broadcast television for two big reasons:
1. No junk-fook commercials. I have enough trouble trying to teach them good eating habits without having Ronald McDonald singing to them daily, and
2. More options and more variety.
Advantage #2, naturally, has a big disadvantage: my kids can accidentally stumble onto stuff that’s not appropriate for kids. However, I’m happy to report that we really haven’t had a problem with this at all. We have a small and very centrally-open apartment, and the kids’ room opens directly onto the central living room and my office. When they’re on the Internet, I’m always at least passively aware of what they’re doing. And the worst thing they’ve found so far was that conspiracy theory video that I wrote about on Rational Moms way back when.
On the other hand, they’ve continued to find and watch science videos. If the kids land on the odd creationist video, my guess is that it’s actually good for them to encounter this sort of stuff in the wild and practice their own brains on it. (They’re curious to learn about religion, as we learned at my parents’ house, and I think it’s good for them to be exposed to it.) And more often the kids stumble onto other random fun stuff like these Potter Puppet Pals.
Also, advantage #1 (no junk-food commercials) isn’t as straight-forward as it may appear. Young kids generally can’t tell the difference between the content of a website and the ads around the edges. The ads are often the flashiest thing on the page. And they often visit websites where the whole site is, frankly, an advertisement. Their current favorite website is Lego.com where they’re treated to all sorts of videos and video-games about all of the Lego sets they can buy. As a result, they’re clamboring for the newest Lego sets even before they’re available in stores!
(7-year-old) Leo’s latest discovery is that practically every product has a website. He’s proud of this discovery, and every time he identifies something as a web address (on a package, on an advertisement, on the side of a truck…) he points it out. And if it’s a product he likes, he then wants to type it into the browser to see what comes up. That includes cookies:
So far, this brave new type of direct-to-kid advertising hasn’t been too much of a problem for me and my little family. I still think they’re getting more interesting and more educational fare on the Internet than they’d get from broadcast television. Have you other parents’ had a similar experience? Any insights to share?
p.s. I’m in the running for some blog awards, and I hope people won’t object if I drop here this link so you can have a look at my entries, and maybe consider voting for me.