Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brain food for children

It doesn't have to be 'My Friends Tigger & Pooh'. Feel free to substitute Mickey's Clubhouse, Backyardigans or almost any insipid bland cack show for young children in there and the image still works.

Of course there are a few engaging shows and shows I would argue are high quality and at least midly stimulating. They deserve credit. But I'm not all that convinced most of those contribute to a child's education either.

And everything a child is exposed to on television should be considered educational. Absolutely everything. At a young age, they are soaking up information like a sponge. Sure, they won't remember most of it, but their world view is forming. Their patterns of behaviour developing.

So it's not about whether or not they learn something from a show. They are learning. Take that as a given. It's about what they learn.

Niffiwan made a comment in this earlier post of mine and, in it, he linked me to this article. It's an essay by Russian director, Aleksandr Tatarskiy, written in 1986. It's a really interesting read and this part hit home:

"Understand that if you feed a child food which need not be chewed and which is too easily digested, his stomach will atrophy! And if you feed him primitive sham-cartoons which require no mental efforts, which revel in their lack of understanding of the true intellectual and emotional capacities of a little person, and lack a clear, identifiable artistic form, another very important organ could atrophy - the head."

Absolutely true.

And, over twenty years later, what have we got? My Friends Tigger & Pooh. Cartoon-induced comas. What's up? What is going wrong? How is it that young children, one of the most important demographics, one of the most fragile, the one that will soak in the most information, that is setting up patterns for how they will live their lives, are being subjected to bland, insipid nothing shows?


Isn't it about time we aimed higher?


Andy Latham said...

Definitely! I have nothing else to add, but wanted to show my support!

susan said...

I don't know what show is worse for kids.

Barney the purple dinosaur or teletubbies.

Bitter Animator said...

What horrifies me about Barney is that it a prime example of a show that tries to take the place of a parent. It seems designed for children who are locked in a rat-infested basement with nothing but an old unrine-soaked blanket and a television. Well, hey kids, don't worry because Barney loves you and, even better, he can tell you how to escape into your imagination.

That said, Teletubbies is a hideous, hideous creation. Hideous.

Red Pill Junkie said...

I have a question for you, Bitter:

In your professional opinion, what is the proper age a parent should introduce its kid to television?

The reason I ask it's because I've read some articles that seem to indicate submitting children under the age of 2 to the tube box increases the risk of autism. These were not woo woo articles, they were backed up by serious research, although it might have been sentationalized a bit by the media.

Yes, TV has become the nanny—sometimes even the surrogate mother—of several generations by now. But with the advent of cable and 24-hour TV, a kid is now able to immerse inside the make-believe worlds anytime any day. I used to watch cartoons 5 hours a day on weekdays, and well... look how bad I turned out! :-P

And now there are even channels with content exclusively for babies! with all this psychedelic colors and images that makes one want to find a little acid and join the rugrats in their trip ;-)

Bitter Animator said...

I would find it very hard to dismiss those studies. I mean, television can't be the direct cause of autism or otherwise everyone in the western world would be autistic, and probably the eastern world too. But as a trigger? Or a contributing factor? I don't know but I wouldn't be hugely surprised if that was true.

As for the proper age for a parent to introduce a child to television, the simple answer is that I don't know. I can tell you as someone who studies television and also as a parent that I would say two sounds about right to me. And yet my own daughter watched television long before that - but I wasn't all that happy about it.

I have looked into study after study of children's television. It is very easy to find a study that tells you television at a very early age isn't a good thing. It's nigh-on impossible to find a study that will argue the opposite. If there's one out there, I haven't seen it. Even the Sesame Street people seemed to accept in some of their studies I read that children shouldn't watch television before the age of two.

And yet so many, including my own, do. The why and just what's up with that, well, that's a whole can of worms of a subject.

Ultimately, though, many of us watched a lot of television as a child and have survived. For me, I take it as a given that children will watch television. And that's why I take the responsibility of what I make very seriously.

Marilla said...

I'm hoping Mr. Rogers is one of the few shows you think are any good.

Niffiwan said...

As I said in my previous reply, I think that "Shaun the Sheep" is an excellent current example of how to do a children's cartoon well. For a number of reasons, even if we ignore for the moment the high production values, which are certainly important. It presents us with a main character who is smart and inventive, and is ALSO respected enough by his flock to be their unofficial leader. This is a contrast to countless other cartoons where the "smart" character is the underdog who must prevail against the strong brutes who are the leaders of the "group". Where is the message there? The real thing that kids will take away from that is that being a dumb brute entitles you to a leadership role, and it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. In "Shaun", the strong brutes are present also in the characters of the pigs, but nobody likes them except themselves. In addition, you have the sheepdog who is the boss of the sheep, but who is not the stereotypical "yelling boss" character; he can be strict when needed, but mostly he treats them as people rather than as underlings. So even if we take away the excellent animation, humour, and sense of pacing, the relationships between the characters are more rounded, complex, and I think more beneficial for a child's psyche than the simplistic stereotypes found in many other shows.

(I have nothing to say about Pooh or Sesame Street because I never watched them. And I never watched Barney either if I could avoid it... I hated that show)