The Checkout

Are Underoos Evil?

I'm back from the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood Summit in Brookline, Mass., and I bring you this dispatch from the epic battle for the hearts and minds of American kids.

I have to say, as someone who grew up with the commercial onslaught of the first blockbuster movies (Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., etc.), I registered the criticisms many of the speakers had about the influence of commercialism on children with a mixture of alarm and skepticism. ('Course I tend to have the same reaction to just about everything.)

On the alarming end was the push toward creating programming for infants and toddlers under age 2--exactly the age group the American Psychological Association says NOT to leave in front of the tube. In addition to the Teletubbies, there's now Sesame Beginnings--videos aimed at kids as young as six months--and BabyFirstTV, the first 24-hour network for babies, that debuted in May on DirecTV.

Another big theme at the gathering was the disappearance of unstructured play stemming from fear of letting children play outside and the allure of "screen time," whether it's video games, the Internet or plain old TV.

Add that to longstanding concerns about video games, sexualization of young girls, violent content in music, movies and TV, and I walked away surprised that every kid doesn't turn out to be an overweight, oversexed, violent, catatonic, bug-eyed zombie.

It also made me wonder, though, whether Spiderman Underoos are really that sinister. When I played Star Wars in kindergarten, did I give up valuable real estate in my developing brain? Or worse, sell a piece of my soul to George Lucas?

The difference between when I grew up and now, so I gathered, is that kids are saturated by commercialism at a level I probably wouldn't recognize. For instance, we didn't have vending machines in school. There was no Channel One, and certainly nothing like Club Libby Lu, which I accidentally wandered into the other day at Tysons Corner Center--and then slowly backed out of with a hand over my belly, as if that might block my baby's ears so she will never want to have her face made up and prance around in sequined belly shirt before the age of 13.

I definitely understand recoiling when a three-year-old starts humming the McDonald's jingle. I'm not inclined to put a television in my kid's room or give the child Grand Theft Auto as a birthday present. But it struck me that a lot of what was being referred to at the summit as commercialism is also considered part of pop culture--the source of as much creativity as some of the folks at the summit feel it kills.

At least one speaker characterized an unequivocal embrace of commercialism by younger parents as a hallmark of the "post-deregulation generation"--the generation that who grew up during the 1980s and beyond playing Super Mario Brothers, wearing Underoos, and eating tie-in cereals to their little hearts content.

I agree there are generational differences. Like a lot of people, I probably fall somewhere in between accepting commercialism and being disturbed by it. In fact, what intrigued me the most were parents at the summit who are trying to control what their kids are exposed to and dealing with day-to-day realities such as their kids feeling left out at school or their children's friends not wanting to visit their homes because they don't own PlayStation.

If you're one of these parents, I want to hear your story. Feel free to share below or, better yet, drop me a line at

By Annys Shin |  October 30, 2006; 9:00 AM ET Kids Marketing
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

My kids lived without cable until they were teenagers. We bought a lot of movies and video games ... over which a parent has some control. They learned to read, and more, to enjoy reading. We still had lots of visiting friends.

Posted by: Joe | October 30, 2006 9:18 AM

My parents must have hated me, instead of an Atari 2600 I got an intellivision, which also had a cool box you plugged in to get games over the cable box.

This was back in the early 80s. I was not an outcast because I didn't have a really great high score on my Atari system, I just wasn't included in those conversations that lasted less than a minute or two. I also didn't play D & D, okay once for about five minutes and thought, I'd rather go play basketball.

My five year old sing the "I'm loving it" everytime we go by a McDonald's, but she'd rather eat at Five guys or a Mexican restaurant or Thai food.

My two year old says, "Chicken Nuggets" when we pass McD.

Kids don't make the purchasing decisions. Sure they can whine but in the end, parents control what is consumed, or brought into the house.

And Underoos are evil.

Posted by: Intellivision geek | October 30, 2006 9:54 AM

What gets me are the commercials pushing various "educational devices" for babies and toddlers, with the implication that if you don't get them your child will turn out boring and stupid.

Hey, I had nothing like that other than a set of wood blocks and other, variable use toys, and my imagination and creativity are perfectly fine.

All these commercials do is prey on parents' fears that they aren't doing "everything" they can to insure their child's well being, when all they do is fatten some stockholder's portfolio!

Posted by: John | October 30, 2006 10:17 AM

What's sad is that some parents actually think they are doing something good for their kid when they park them in front of the TV and pop in a Baby Einstein. Apparently that glazed-over, hypnotic stare is what passes for child development nowadays. Put the kid out of sight of the TV and give him or her a spatula or some blocks to play with--last time I checked you can't learn spatial reasoning, problem solving, or hand-eye coordination from the TV.

Posted by: jw | October 30, 2006 10:35 AM

If television is used as an electronic babysitter, then problems will develop. I don't have kids but I love the History and Discovery channels. I used to babysit a family where the TV/cable was on ALL THE TIME. Those kids were allowed to watch pure garbage. I never saw a book in that house except for school books, and they had no creative hobbies -- only prancing around to N'Sync music. Now if they were my children (famous last words) they'd have creative hobbies, outdoor time, study time, chores to help around the house, and I'd have definite control over the minimum hours of TV and the programs they watched. Underoos aren't evil by themselves and commercials are a form of brainwashing. How many 'intelligent' adults fall for that crap -- it's no wonder kids are sucked into it, too. You can blame a lot of society's problems on Madison Avenue.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 30, 2006 10:47 AM

I cannot believe how lucky I am to have become a daddy right before discovering ReplayTV DVRs. From the day we first decided to let our daughter watch Sesame Street, we watched it when WE had time, and stopped it when we wanted to talk about something, or even to go run errands. TV watching is still at its heart a passive activity, but we are active participants in when and how and what we watch, free-range grazers instead of force-fed calves in the veal-fattening pens.

And best of all, my daughter has NO PATIENCE for commercials now!

Other than PBS Kids shows, almost all of which have good messages and eschew product placement and consumerism, for preschool and older kids I recommend Lilo & Stitch series (Disney Channel), Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends (Cartoon Network), and Good Eats (Food Network). Yes, the last one is not supposed to be a kids' show, but it's the best show at explaining ANYTHING since Bill Nye the Science Guy went off the air, and my daughter loves Alton Brown.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | October 30, 2006 10:58 AM

Well, lets pretend you are a 6 month old child who can't move around much and likely spend a lot of time on your tummy, in a bouncy or in a swing. A little mental stimulation via the TV is NOT a bad thing. Our now 2 1/2 year old had Baby Einstein starting around 5 months and not for 10 hours at a time. It gave her something to focus on and, I believe, increased the rate of her mental development. As she got older, we moved to the more age appropriate BE DVDs and some Sesame Street. We noticed that as she became more physically active she watched less and less on her own. We felt this was a healthy transition. She now watches Noggin sometimes (only when she wants - which isn't really that often) and actively plays both indoors and outdoors. Do I think it is wrong to let babies watch Videos - no - but then we didn't use it as a babysitter (for any real lengths of time).

Posted by: MO mom | October 30, 2006 10:59 AM

First off, anyone who isn't a parent doesn't have anything valuable to say about "parking" a kid in front of a TV. No one knows what it's like until they're up from 2am-4am with a screaming baby and their toddler wakes up LOUD at 6am and there's no way they can miss work because of an important meeting. Or worse yet, your spouse is on travel. Your child is awake and throwing laundry and you haven't taken a shower and it's already 7am. My son woke up at 4:30am thanks to the time change and Halloween excitement. I was up until midnight finishing a report for work. That is where TV comes in.

Only one of my son's friends was ever "parked" in front of a TV as a preschooler. And we talked to her about it. Every other parent we know, perhaps 20-30 families, made judicious use of television as part of an educational plan. If you don't rent a movie or watch a TV show about whales then where will your child see a whale? They aren't currently in theaters, the Smithsonian removed the exhibit, we don't live near the ocean and there are few whales outside of Delware. It took me until my son was almost 4 before we could get him on a whale watching boat and saw one. Prior to that, TV was KEY.

I grew up and LOVED TV. I was fascinated by it and the actors and how it worked. I joined the drama club in Jr High and High school working on lighting usually, majored in broadcasting and film in college and made a serious try at a film career before going into websites, which are filmy/animation-type experiences. Everything I watched on TV prepared me for my chosen career.

But of course I also wrote letters and emails to the actors I most liked when I was a kid. They wrote back. I took them out to dinner when they were in-town at the Olney Theater and other Summer Stock showcases. The actors I was fascinated with as a toddler are people I count as friendly acquaintances today.

In my grandmother's farm country they got two TV stations, CBS and NBC. In the 1970s it meant they NEVER saw the Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, etc. These kids had NO idea what everyone else in the country new. When I visited in the summer we played in the gullies and creeks, climbed trees, and had a great time. When I visited again at age 11 they were smoking, drinking, seemed to know too much about sex, and they all owned guns and minibikes. By 1990 my best friend was shot dead by his girlfriend's father, a girl down the road was raped and murdered leaving a roadhouse when she was 17, Another kid lost both arms in a tractor accident, another one died drunk driving, another one died in an Army exercise. None of the kids I knew from my grandmother's farm town survived- they're all dead. People who are raising intelligent sophisticated kids long for the simplistic life that kids once had. Kids raised to be simple are unsophisticated and in the only example I know of kids who really grew up without TVs and computers, they're dead.

I refuse to raise an ignorant child. They know who all the characters are. They still haven't seen Spiderman or the Incredibles or Batman movies of course, but they are educated in that.

And secondly, how conceitful is it to presume that reading will be as important in 2025 as it is today? If we can communicate through video we will and you may very well see a generation that can better appreciate spoken-word drama than reading and that's not wrong, that's the way human intelligence evolves. This reminds me of my parent's fretting that I only get the Sunday newspaper and that the website isn't "real."

Underoos are not evil, they are the spark that makes life fun. Your childhood was lots of fun thanks to Batman and Sigmund and the Seamonsters and the Groovie Ghoolies and Strawberry Shortcake. Stop fretting about your kids and let them live their lives. There is no "perfect."

Posted by: Bethesdan | October 30, 2006 11:07 AM

"I refuse to raise an ignorant child. They know who all the characters are. They still haven't seen Spiderman or the Incredibles or Batman movies of course, but they are educated in that."

This is so very creepy. Educated in Batman?

"Underoos are not evil, they are the spark that makes life fun. Your childhood was lots of fun thanks to Batman and Sigmund and the Seamonsters and the Groovie Ghoolies and Strawberry Shortcake. Stop fretting about your kids and let them live their lives. There is no "perfect.""

My childhood was not made fun by any of those things because my parents didn't allow us to have them. I am happy, healthy, educated, and well adjusted. I am certainly not ignorant.

And you can see sharks in books. You don't have to have a TV.

Feel free to give your kids TV, but don't delude yourself into thinking it's a necessary educational tool.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 30, 2006 11:22 AM

I should also mention that for a while in my late-Elementary School years my parent's purposely handicapped me. They didn't deny me my generation's Playstation (which was the Atari) they denied my "designer clothes." This was the era of the Izod and Polo shirts and I was NOT allowed to wear a brand on any of my shirts. I should also mention my parents were staunchly anti-violence and I was told to never ever hit another child.

I was beat up many times over wearing "Sears Clothes." I didn't fight back because I was told not to by my parents and teachers. I claimed I was sick so I could stay home. I got terrible grades and almost flunked the 6th grade.

Because my parents refused to buy me the clothes the other kids wore at the same time they refused to let me fight back physically.

And if you think I'm making it up, a waitress waited on my family about 10 years ago and says, "Bethesdan! I haven't seen you in years. You're dressing really well." What an odd thing to say. I asked what she meant. "Well you always wore the most boring Sears clothes that the preppies picked on you about." My mother turned beet red and we had a LONG conversation about it for the next year.

If you try to shelter your child from society, society has a way of smacking your child around to make them feel bad. Nice work, you've just handicapped your child's success in life.

Posted by: Bethesdan | October 30, 2006 11:22 AM

And you can see sharks in books. You don't have to have a TV.

Name me one book that shows a swimming shark or whale. Name one. Books are static. Now who is delusional?

Posted by: Bethesdan | October 30, 2006 11:28 AM

"I refuse to raise an ignorant child. They know who all the characters are. They still haven't seen Spiderman or the Incredibles or Batman movies of course, but they are educated in that."

This is so very creepy. Educated in Batman?


The argument about being educated in pop culture was settled 30 years ago by the American Studies academic movement. Your idea that Batman isn't educational is right out of the 1950s anti-Comic Book movement. It's over, I'm shocked to see someone try to trot out 1950s arguments 50 years later.

Posted by: Bethesdan | October 30, 2006 11:32 AM

I think we can all agree that TV/internet/video games/pop culture are good *in moderation only*. Too much and you have a zombie, too little and you have... Bethesdan, I guess. Notice I didn't mention advertising, which, in its mass-media format, does nothing more than make things more expensive (guess who pays for that advertising). Underoos aren't evil; advertising is.

Posted by: Carey | October 30, 2006 11:37 AM

We just recently got satellite (which is blocked to permit only PG-13 and below fare without a code), and a big screen TV after having only a DVD player attached to a TV whose antennae had been taken off, so that it did not function as a TV set. We have tons of DVD's. We didn't use even DVD's for children under two. At this point, my oldest is 16, watches very little, but is glad to have satellite in order to know what the other kids are talking about. The younger kid (age 9) watches more than I like, and we have been forced to go to a no TV on school nights rule. They both read for pleasure. The adults in our family watch almost no television, but it's nice to know it is there in case there is something we do wish to watch. Nobody in the family has any tolerance for commercials, which I think is an advantage. Does this cause anybody in the family to be more or less creative. Well, I dunno. I don't think of us as being particularly creative. The kids draw and write for pleasure, so do we I guess, but nobody in the family is likely to be a commercial success as an artist or writer. Both my kids have lots of friends and prefer doing stuff with themto watching TV. Their friends come over. We don't have Nintendo. We do have an Internet connection, but use of that is heavily supervised after my oldest started emailing some predator a couple of years ago. (I sicced the cops on him, but it apparently isn't illegal for a 30 year old in Las Vegas to pretend to be a 14 year old in Michigan and to try to arrange a date. Anyway, I gather he claimed that he thought she was an adult pretending to be a teenager too.) These are odd times we live in. I do sympathize with Bethesdan and her desire to allow her kids to conform if they wish. My mom dressed me funny too, and I had no friends as a result of that when I was a child. So, I do allow my kids to dress in the style of their peers, although not to dress immodestly. But I also think that TV, Nintendo, and Internet are mixed blessings at best.

Posted by: Shirin | October 30, 2006 11:49 AM

Bethesdan, I think you are damaged and need help.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 30, 2006 12:10 PM

"I should also mention that for a while in my late-Elementary School years my parent's purposely handicapped me. They didn't deny me my generation's Playstation (which was the Atari) they denied my "designer clothes." This was the era of the Izod and Polo shirts and I was NOT allowed to wear a brand on any of my shirts. I should also mention my parents were staunchly anti-violence and I was told to never ever hit another child.

I was beat up many times over wearing "Sears Clothes.""

It sounds like you had great parents and you would have had difficulties no matter what they did. Denying a child designer clothes will not damage them. I am living proof that you can be without all those things and do just fine in life. I am sorry that you couldn't.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 30, 2006 12:21 PM

I grew up on TV (back when everything was in black and white, and even most kids' programming was live action) and I still read. My son, now 21, always had TV, and he reads, too. But I remember being horrified the Halloween he was 4 when we walked into the day care center and were greeted by a pint-size Freddy Krueger, complete with fingernail extensions. I don't think age-appropriate TV is bad, and I don't think Underoos are bad in and of themselves, but I do think parents have to exercise some common sense.

Posted by: Michael's mom | October 30, 2006 12:47 PM

I watch my niece and nephew who have been largely raised in front of television. My niece would prefer to spend a beautiful day inside watching TV. My nephew would rather go play with his trucks in the dirt. Same house, same parents, different results.

We don't plan on raising our daughter in front of the TV. Its in the basement and we don't have cable. The most TV she saw was in her first few weeks and Daddy was following basketball (and yes, she's already been to two basketball games). At 8 months old, she seems perfectly content to be given a stuffed animal or another toy to play with. I'm not sure she'd even react to TV and unless we gave her something to play with/chew on, I imagine she'd get bored pretty quickly. I think she'd rather watch her mom or dad sing off key to the radio and dance while cleaning or cooking.

I think its all about choice and how you want to raise a child and what you want them to experience. My parents encouraged us to play outside and use imagination. I plan on doing the same. If a child wants to know who Batman is or who a shark swims, we as parents now have the ability to show them online and help them learn and explain beyond what a TV show will do. We can explain Batman in a context they will understand and to an age appropriate extent, thus teaching and interacting at the same time.

And if anyone knows where I can get adult sized footy pajama underoos, please let me know.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 30, 2006 1:13 PM

I must have been a terrible parent. My daughters didn't have a nintendo until they were in high school and purchased it themselves. When they were single digit ages, I would sit them at the table, give them construction paper, glue, staples, etc. etc. and they designed and made things. They weren't parked in front of the television, I actually read to them and taught them things. Mickey Ds was a treat not a mainstay. I had rules and guidelines. I issued discipline when necessary (punishments taken away were the telephone and/or television). I spoke with their teachers, kept on them about school, was interested in what they did, and encouraged them. What the heck did I get for being such a bad parent? Two wonderful college educated daughters that are self supporting and contribute to society. Their work ethics are such that employers fawn over them. I couldn't be prouder. I have to make the assertion a lot of parents wouldn't mind being a bad parent like me. ;)

- and they didn't have underoos

Posted by: SS | October 30, 2006 1:22 PM

Name me one book that shows a swimming shark or whale. Name one. Books are static. Now who is delusional?

You don't see a whale when you read Moby Dick? You didn't see a spider's web when you read Charlotte's Web? You didn't see dwarves when you read The Hobbit? If this is true, then I think you are indeed damaged in some way. In creating appropriate images while reading, the brain is much more active than while being passively fed them. Some TV is educational. A controlled amount of TV probably isn't harmful. But it's not a substitute for more active forms of learning.

Posted by: sara | October 30, 2006 1:36 PM

I have a 13 year old boy and an 11 year old girl.

Both of my children watch tv, movies, play videogames, listen to music, read magazines, read books, play sports, play outside with friends, go for walks with our dog, all of it.

Each of them grew up at least part-time in the bookstore I ran for their entire lives (up until last year).

We used to commute together as a family, listening to NPR, music or audiobooks.

Basically--know what your kids are interested in. Share what you are interested in. Discuss difficult topics encountered in the news, in pop music on television, in movies.

Know your kids--know their interests--help develop their taste by exposing them to what you consider to be more interesting through your experience. Listen to what they suggest, you may find things to like yourself.

Take them to concerts, to museums, to libraries, to bookstores.

My kids are exposed to tons of commmercial messages. I am exposed to tons of commercial messages. Help them develop ways to manage this and how to filter through the garbage. Get tivo and learn to love the boop-de-boop.

Every new idea is a chance to get to participate in your children's lives. They will thank you, and you will have fond memories even after they leave.

Posted by: Jean | October 30, 2006 1:45 PM

"First off, anyone who isn't a parent doesn't have anything valuable to say about "parking" a kid in front of a TV."

Huh, I guess if your policy is that no one without first-hand experience in a subject has anything worthwhile to say, you must be a very quiet person.

Posted by: jw | October 30, 2006 1:51 PM

Like it is for most things in life, the answer is "all in moderation."

Let the kid enjoy his/her underoos, McDonald's, TV and video games.

So long as the kid also experiences healthy homemade meals, books, blocks and imaginative play.

And as long as you balance out the underoos with some off-brand clothing, I think it'll be alright.

Posted by: mizbinkley | October 30, 2006 2:00 PM

I'm not an anti-TV zealot, but we don't have one in our house. No one (including our 8- and 10-year old daughters) misses it one bit. Getting rid of the TV was almost an accidental decision, but I would say it has been one of the easiest, most unequivocally positive decisions we've made as parents. we used to use it to "babysit" the kids while we were getting ready for work and getting the kids ready for school. It was always an issue when we turned it off. So my wife and I said to each other one morning, "I think the kids realize we're using the TV as a way of keeping them occupied so we can do other stuff. Let's try this: let's not turn it on unless they ask for it." They were 2 and 4 at the time. They never asked. We haven't turned it on since (my wife and I didn't watch much TV anyway).

I'm sure there are lots of good things we're missing. You have limited time in life. You can spend time watching TV or doing something else. TV is basically a passive activity. In general, active pasttimes are better. Are our kids "better" than kids who watch TV? I don't know. They're good kids, they're happy, they love to read, they're smart, they have friends Same as lots of other kids. I do think they have an easier time just playing, without a constant stream of external stimulation. They definitely are way ahead of the curve verbally. And they are blissfully unaware of 90% of the commercialism that other kids are immersed in.

No TV at all; what's the downside? It's all positive, as far as i can see.

Posted by: former Bethesdan | October 30, 2006 2:13 PM

"Educated in Batman?" Absolutely! I remember watching syndicated reruns of the old Adam West TV show after kindergarten in the early 1980s. (My mom would let me watch about an hour of TV a day, and that was almost always what I picked.) Not only did the characters and scenarios give me something to build on during my own make-believe play, but the show also led me to the Batman comic books and to the comics medium in general -- which I believe had a tremendous, positive effect on my reading ability. Moderation in all things, etc., but there's an important place for popular culture/entertainment in education.

Posted by: Washingtonian | October 30, 2006 2:28 PM

Well I certainly didn't have alot growing up and if anything, it made me appreciate things much more when, as an adult, I was in the position to purchase that something "special". Oddly, you'd think that I'd go haywire and run up a bunch of debt to make up for wha I "missed" out on as a child. Exact opposite.

My kids have what they need, period. And Bethesdan, my kids know full well that if anyone picks on them for their clothes etc., BELT 'EM.

Little violence isn't a bad thing from time to time.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 30, 2006 2:31 PM

Wow, I guess I should feel lucky to still be alive at 26. I guess we did get ABC and PBS, in addition to CBS and NBC, unlike those poor kids who are all dead now. I wonder, though, if that's what made me grow up to own a gun (no minibike though).

Posted by: Not a Bethesdan | October 30, 2006 2:50 PM

I grew up being forced outside either by my parents or being bored. Cable was not a word until I was 10 Years old. GoodWill was the store of choice for "new" school clothes. Govt Cheese made good grilled cheese sandwiches. Reading was enjoyed and yes, even reading the Encyclopedia's and Dictionary. I had an imagination. I pretended that my wiffle ball bat was a gun and we and some friends played war or cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians.
I had the Atari, the nintendo etc, but still went outside. Why? Well, that is what kids do. Kids want to play and be active, but in todays world, parents have forgotten this. Parents seem to have forgotten that part of growing up is experiencing things. Falling off of a tree. getting hit by a ball in kick ball, doing a face plant while playing 4 square, jumping form the swings. Having Tar and Pavement on the play ground. Parents now, want more and seem to want to do less.
Maybe it's time for the Parents to...I don't know...PARENT.

Posted by: Joe D. | October 30, 2006 3:19 PM

Tsk, tsk, tsk pooooor Bethesdan. Had to wear Sears clothes. The horrors! That should keep your therapist busy for years and years.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 30, 2006 3:24 PM

I'm not a parent, but I'd be hesitent to let a young child (under 6) watch a lot of, if any, TV. I'm horrified to see why babies should be watching TV at all.

I get annoyed by the children with cell phones and their (too much) dependence on pop culture. I'm horrified to see 10yr old girls wearing clothes so provacative that I would be ashamed to wear as an adult.

Most of what's out there in TVLand is crap. I wouldn't let impressionable children watch the stuff on TV and think that's normal behavior.

Posted by: Sorta Anti-Tech | October 30, 2006 3:33 PM

DVRs allow you to watch the shows without commercials - that should get rid of some of the problems. And TV in moderation is fine - it's a tool for teaching limits, i.e. one hour a day after homework is completed. TV is good for sick kids who don't have the energy for much else. It's certainly better than having them be bored and whiny.

National Geographic specials on whales, sharks, or spiders are a great complement to reading Moby Dick, Peter Pan, and Charlotte's Web. They help the kids to picture what those creatures look like on the move, and to relate them to the real world.

When I teach college classes, I look for useful documentaries, although I've incorporated Monty Python into my lecture on life in Roman Palestine.

As a grad student who LOVES reading novels (and yes, I watched a fair amount of TV as a kid, until avoiding my family became more important as a teenager), I found that TV actually has an advantage over books. The shows usually end in an hour or less. They don't keep me up all night like a good book does!

I always wanted underoos and themed sheets as a kid. I would LOVE some Wonder Woman underoos in my size! And yes, it's good for kids to have some fashionable clothes that don't break the parents' sense of appropriate dress, and that can be mixed with cheaper stuff. Hand-me-downs from 4-10 years earlier are out of style and a good target for bullies.

Teach kids the difference between cool crap and high-quality goods, and let them have some of both. As adults, they will probably choose high quality.

Posted by: Arizonie | October 30, 2006 3:48 PM

There's nothing wrong with children having to imagine a story taking place in a book instead of watching it according to what a director thinks it should look like. It tends to develop their imagination and creativity, you know. A good writer can ignite that imagination by his descriptions and story telling.

Posted by: John | October 30, 2006 3:51 PM

Bethesden--you are not sick or evil. The fact is that you were being punished because of your parents choices. The Sears clothes were not the it--it could have been your haircut, religion, whatever. Kids just want to fit in--and they want someone they can persecute. I can relate to the designer thing--as a h.s. grad in the mid 80's, when I was in middle school Izod and Polo were IT. At least I had Nike's. My older sister did not go through it, and it took her a decade (and an insightful friend) to help her understand why I begged for these things that my parents couldn't afford (just because I didn't get them doesn't mean I didn't want them). KIDS WANT TO FIT IN. I was not a trailblazer, my kid may be, or not.

My kids can watch t.v., play video games, they have cell phones. They watch the same stupid shows over and over (can anyone NOT barf when they see Zachncody?Hannah Montana? HALLOWEENTOWN? my kids think that is good t.v.). This is the society we live in. They also record Trading Spaces, boys v. Girls, which they watch on SAt. mornings.

My kids are spoiled, I know. They have pretty much every material toy they could want. But-they mostly play dress up (ages 9 and 12), watch a little t.v., play with their friends, and run around outside, screaming with the neighbor kids. They watched videos when they were little--Barney AND teletubbies. They don't seem to be having any problems. The television aimed at babies is lame, and any normal person knows this and avoids it. The abnormal ones are letting their kids get PPV anyway.

Basically, if your kids are halfway intelligent, and you are too, you will be doing other things besides watching t.v. and will have a nice, balanced life. Going outside now to enjoy the gorgeous day.

Posted by: jane | October 30, 2006 3:56 PM

Although my parents could not afford to buy us designer clothes (note to Bethesdan: we would have been happy with Sears clothes vs. hand-me-downs from different-sized and gendered cousins), they still gave us the greatest gift - self worth. When they sent us out into the world in these clothes over our complaints, they said "As wonderful as YOU are, as soon as the folks at school see you in these, EVERYone will be wearing them before long - you're a trendsetter". Strangely, we believed them, and held our heads up high all day in our "different" clothes...our parents gave us the confidence and pride to overcome any hurtful comments we may have heard - all we had to remember was that pretty soon, everyone would want to look like US. TV is not the issue; clearly, people have survived fine without it up until the last 50 years -- it's the effort we make to give our children the tools they need to realize that TV/clothes/material status are peripheral to their true inner selves. If they compare themselves poorly to the endless stream of consumerism and the artificial world they witness on the tube, they will forever be disappointed.

Posted by: be yourself | October 30, 2006 4:05 PM

At least a few people here get it. Moderation of anything is always the right answer but being literate in pop culture, understading the power of a medium like tv and film, playing around using a computer to develop both literacy and interest are invaluable tools for being a well rounded adult. Any parent that reflexively denies their kids any of that may be stopping the next great artist or the next Bill Gates (how much outdoor play you think he got?).

Everyone needs to relax, give their kids the freedom to try, fail and succeed at many endeavors and enjoy it as they grow into their own individuals (regardless of how much we try to shape them into reflections of our own desires).

Posted by: aa | October 30, 2006 5:13 PM

as "AA" saysmoderation
BUT also its cousin balance.
Disney books mixed Disney TV is not balance.
Faux education toys with computers chips mixed with the Cartoon network is not balance.

Starting from the birth of human race, The Scope/definition/domain of Childhood is dynamic, ever changing,
We can not stop it from changing, but we can/ must influence the direction. The direction is in need of a correction.

Posted by: tedzzz | October 30, 2006 5:59 PM

TV is very similar to theater/dance and to some extent to painting/sculpture and can generate as much thought and engagement as those and as books. In terms of passivity, the medium isn't at fault, but the content and the audience's capacity for analysis, reflection, and imagination.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 1:29 PM

You don't see a whale when you read Moby Dick? You didn't see a spider's web when you read Charlotte's Web? You didn't see dwarves when you read The Hobbit?


No, that's called imagination, not seeing. you call me damaged, yet you seem to relate fantasy and reality as equals. That's frightening.

Posted by: Bethesdan | November 1, 2006 10:47 AM

Bethesden--you are not sick or evil.

Lord, I have no idea how I turn into a lightning rod making comments that everyone I am friends with agrees upon. Did I mention I'm a vegetarian and have only the slightest amount of junk food in my house and my kids watch only nature shows, hence the shark and whale stuff?

I thought it would be pretty clear that even the best laid plans of parents - hippy-style anti-violence and a rejection of designer clothes - can backfire. I had many friends who grew up in communes that would always say they were wonderful childhoods in crowds, but when they were over alone, complain about the alienation between them and the rest of society who grew up, using their terminology, normally. Their commune school had them reading at grade level when we were reading two grades ahead, you know? the Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

Posted by: Bethesdan | November 1, 2006 10:57 AM

To quote a previous poster, "In my grandmother's farm country they got two TV stations, CBS and NBC. In the 1970s it meant they NEVER saw the Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, etc. These kids had NO idea what everyone else in the country new. When I visited in the summer we played in the gullies and creeks, climbed trees, and had a great time. When I visited again at age 11 they were smoking, drinking, seemed to know too much about sex, and they all owned guns and minibikes."

Well, if we are going to use anecdotal evidence to prove a point, I grew up with only two television stations--no ABC or PBS until I was a teenager. I'm still alive, have a wonderful career, great daughter, nice home, and a Ph.D.
My extended family lived in the country and none of my cousins are dead, despite having only two television stations to watch. One has his own very successful trucking firm; one is a very wealthy petroleum engineer; and about half of them have college degrees. All have decent jobs and have raised very nice families, good homes, and are respected members of their communities and responsible citizens. None smoke and most don't drink at all--though some of us are social drinkers. Some of my cousins actually own guns (horrors!) because they are hunters who eat venision.

AND, all of them know the difference between 'new' and 'knew' despite being rural rednecks who suffered from the deprevation of not being able to watch "Laverne and Shirley" or the "Partridge Family."

To make it even worse, a lot of us wore homemade clothes, because we had the opportunity to take home economics at school and actually learn how to construct clothing and cook. I purchased my own Singer at age 14 with money earned from babysitting and was so glad not to have to wear clothes from Sears. Thankfully, the designer clothes rage didn't take off till several years after I graduated from high school.
My own daughter got to watch tv, but she always preferred to spend time interacting with me, or whoever else was around. I made a conscious decision not to allow her to have a tv in her room, which I think helped us maintain a close relationship. She went to a family daycare, where the owner watched the soaps every day while the kids napped in front of the tv. It didn't seem to hurt her too badly--she has just graduated from college with her degree, is supporting herself and is responsible and caring. She likes to read and we often trade books.
TV is a problem when it replaces human interaction and extols poor values, not when it is a sometime entertainment.

Posted by: Mississippi Gal | November 1, 2006 4:03 PM

To Missgal: maybe it is a regional thing, but in the rural midwest, kids tend to get into trouble quite a bit. Out of my 4 cousins who lived on a farm, only 1 is stable. I think it rather depends on the time frame and area in which you were a teen. Cities and suburbs just have more stuff to do than a lot of rural communities, especially if 4-H is not your thing. Anyway, I wore homemade clothes in the 70's and was thrilled with them. They were always nicer than Sears. My sister and I still have our matching dresses my mom made us for Easter one year.

As far as sex goes, there were more teen pregnancies in rural areas in the 80's (%-wise), mainly because of a lack of b.c. I agree with you about when t.v. becomes a problem. It extols poor values most of the time, however (which is why I watch it--it adds a little gasp of delightful horror to what the casual observer of my life would say SCREAMS conservative values, even though I may think, read and believe something far different. I just don't have the guts to look the part!).

Posted by: Jane | November 2, 2006 10:51 AM

I have a problem with the toys and other things that are educational when it is the toy that is the primary educator, not the parent. The book "reads" the story, the toy "says" the color, the toy tells the child that they've made their letters right....the parents should be active in this process, not a watcher-on of the process.

Posted by: Michelle | November 20, 2006 3:26 PM

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