Do you remember an old movie from the ’80s called “Short Circuit?” It’s a tale of a military robot, a.k.a. “Johnny 5,” who got struck by lightning and somehow gained human consciousness in the process.
Johnny 5 spends a good chunk of the movie trying to decode the mysteries of his new environment, which included everything from operating his own robot body to learning about his new habitat and figuring out human interactions.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie was when the robot was speed reading a dictionary, yet was still clamoring for “More input! More input!”
This was basically my kid! When we figured out that our firstborn was actually capable of learning, we went out of our way to CREATE a home environment that would stimulate her brain. But it seemed the more literacy and sensory-play opportunities she experienced, the more she wanted.
It was an awesome snowball effect! We would chuckle and lovingly refer to her as our little “Johnny 5” now and again on account of her always needing “More Input!”
The thing is, as her mother, I was the one with the choice. I was in charge of the screens and quality of toys in the house, not the toddler. I had the privilege and responsibility of deciding what APPROPRIATE and BENEFICIAL content was going to be!
If you ask kids what they want to eat, most don’t choose candy over broccoli. One is going nourish their body, the other….not so much. But certainly, you’re not going to let your child eat candy for every meal! That would be toxic to the body!
So why do the equivalent with their brain?
Poor quality screen time is not much different than junk food. A deliberate, healthy choice must be presented or the default “junk food” setting will easily take over. And that snowball will gain momentum and leave your child craving “More Input” of the same!
Like constant broadcast TV with ridiculous advertising aimed at kids or unfiltered access to youtube channels with nonsensical content. Unwittingly exposing your child to values that don’t align with your own. Once you start those habits, it’s very difficult to put the cat back in the bag!
Sure you can plop your child in front of any old screen without careful consideration and it will pacify them, no doubt. Maybe it will let you finally “get some stuff done around the house.”
And admittedly, some of those traditional kids’ cartoons can be MESMERIZING to a child! Much more so than a slower-paced learning DVD, on account of their rapidly flashing scenes, loud voices, and familiar pop-culture characters.
But are you feeding their brain broccoli or candy? Are you after immediate gratification or are you playing the “long game” when it comes to your child’s education?
By far, the EASIEST thing to do is NOT to introduce junk screen time to begin with! At least not until they are much older and the literacy foundation has been laid. And if they’ve never viewed junk shows in the first place, they won’t know the difference.
But if typical kids’ cartoons are currently airing in your house and you are already regretting your decision, try to at least scale it back. Maybe just let them watch their favorite one weekly as a special treat on Fridays instead of every day. Prep some popcorn and make it an event. Perhaps choose to watch that cartoon in a targeted second language; Netflix now offers lots of language options. Even better, create some matching flashcards and use your child’s favorite cartoon character to their advantage!
So what can you do as a parent to ensure your child is getting the quality input they deserve?
- Turn OFF broadcast TV and invest in high-quality educational programs. You can let your child choose, but make sure ALL choices are parent-approved choices!
- Restrict youtube access to specifically curated playlists and keep a very close eye on it while they are watching. Perhaps “push” that playlist from your phone to a big-screen TV or connect your laptop using an HDMI cable, versus just handing a device over to your child.
- Use the “guided access” feature on your iPad to prevent your child from exiting the educational app of your choosing. Or dedicate one specific tablet just for them (to use in moderation) with all app choices being great choices.
- Interact with them as much as you can! Talk to them constantly, long before they can respond, even if you look a little crazy while you are pushing the stroller down the block! Look for “teachable moments” to explain things and help them decipher the world around them, all while continuing to improve the parent-child bond.
- And of course, read, read, read! Keep a basket of books in every room in the house. Digital books like Tumblebooks are a great way to balance screen time with literacy, it’s worth checking if your local library offers free access.
The bottom line? Avoiding junk programming and replacing it with high-quality input will make a MASSIVE difference in your child’s early education.