Friday, October 21, 2005

The magic world of television

It amazes me how two people, with the same parents, raised in similar environments, with each other, can be so different. My daughters are opposites in so many ways. And they were born this way.

That is not to say that you can’t change or modify your personality. But anyone with more than one child will tell you that children are born with distinct personalities.

How does this pertain to television? Bear with me.

My youngest daughter (middle child, aged 4) loves dolls. Barbies, Bratz (the so-called “Prostitots”), My Scene … whatever the doll de jour, she wants it. My oldest daughter (first child, aged 6) could care less. Unless her sister wants something -- then she latches on to it. The biggest difference, my 4-year-old will play with her dolls forever. My 6-year-old won’t. She’ll open the gift or whatever delivery method brings the doll to her and she’ll be very thankful. But after the initial gratitude, and maybe a short bit of playing with it, she just forgets about it. Or lets her sister play with it.

And they’ve always been this way. From the earliest stages, you could see my oldest was more interested in looking at things and trying to figure what was going on with something. Her sister, was more interested in picking things up and seeing what was going on with them that way. So it is with this in mind, that I observe their reactions to TV.

My 4-year-old sees a commercial. To her it is simple supply/demand economics. “Daddy. I want that My Scene doll! They have a new one. She’s got a red dress. Her hair is blonde. I really want the blonde one, but the brunette one … her name it Chloe,” ad nauseam. Imagine this coming at you with this cute little voice that still kind of articulates her Rs with a slight W sound. She’s amazingly excited and looks to you as the provider of not only her survival needs, but her doll dealer. I am the supplier, buyer, and, at times, I even have to prepare her product for her. Thanks TV.

But there are simple and various ways to deal with this. The first, and probably easiest, would be to ban her from TV until she leaves my house. While attractive, I’d have to listen to her whine. See above, where I described how cute and pleading she could be? Well, her whining is the equal and opposite reaction. So, usually I just tell her that she might get one for Christmas or her birthday. In fact, she’s stuck on the idea that she’s getting a My Scene doll for her birthday (in March) and not Christmas, regardless of how many times I tell her that Christmas is closer to now than her birthday.

For my 6-year-old, TV is a magic place where they sell miracle cures for being overweight, an exercise device will cure all your health problems and families are made all better because mom popped Brand X pie in the oven. She will see a commercial for a diet pill or something and then say, “Mommy/Daddy! That person just lost a lot of weight with that. We should buy that so you can too!”

It’s the naiveté that gets me. My 4-year-old already understands manipulation. She understands that subtlety of language and feelings. Not outright lying, but not fully coming forth with the truth. My 6-year-old does not. She does, however, understand complex abstract ideas, like simple relativity (not by that name, of course). She understands the idea that things can be different given different people’s points of views, etc. It’s amazing.

My 4-year-old will meld into a situation until she’s comfortable and then assert herself. My 6-year-old will blunder into a situation either situationally unaware with her notions of how to act and she won’t adapt. But she’s also emotional and isn’t strong enough to assert herself in a meaningful way. And I don’t see how what they watch on TV is helping any of this.

The magic is that they don’t have to put themselves into any magical world and think what they might do. It’s force fed to them. So, they watch TV. My youngest girl pinging around and dancing, etc. to the Winx Club and whatnot, my oldest watching intently. I wonder how much of it has an effect on who they now are and who they will become.

Good lord, I could go on forever. Suffice to say that both of them like books and I’m thinking that they’re going to be pushed more in our household.

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