Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Taking Back Childhood

My Wish-I-Had-Time-To-Read-This list is growing faster than ever. I can't wait to get my hands on this one by Nancy Carlsson-Paige. It's called "Taking Back Childhood: Helping Your Kids Thrive in a Fast-Paced, Media-Saturated, Violence-Filled World." This book is right in line with another on my list and, at first glance, seems to reinforce my views on child rearing in the 21st Century.

It requires a concerted effort to allow children mental space for open, imaginative play, now more than ever. It takes focus just to find toys that aren't pre-scripted and ready to drive off and play with themselves. Carlsson-Paige advocates clay and paint and blocks over the recognizable Disney characters, who by their very nature, come with a pre-determined storyline.

I'm sure to many parents, my obsession with this issue makes me sound like a bit of a crackpot. And perhaps by today's standards, I am. But when I read things like Susan Gregory Thomas' "Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds" I am both emboldened and terrified. Thomas writes:
"Perhaps because of the belief that a video can raise their babies' IQ, or can at least be 'educational,' more than a quarter of American children under the age of two have a television in their room, in spite of an appeal by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under two not watch television at all. On a typical day, 61 percent of children six months to twenty-three months watch television; by age three, 88 percent do. The median time that children from zero to three spend watching some form of media on the screen is slightly under two hours--about as much time as they spend playing outside and about three times as much time as they spend being read to."

When did we, as parents, decide to outsource the raising of our children--the shaping of their minds, values and sense of self--to Hollywood? Allowing corporate media and marketing giants that kind of unfettered access to our children's developing minds will, without a doubt, have consequences that run much deeper than I think we can imagine.

The longer we can let our children be children, the longer we can keep them out of the marketers' reach, the more space we can give their minds--and souls--to grow and experiment and flourish, the better off they will be. For small children, every experience is a "learning" experience. A six-month-old doesn't need an educational toy; every experience a six-month-old has is educational.

I believe we need to let ourselves--and our children--off the hook. We need to let our kids be kids, without organizing the fun out of their days. This, I truly believe, is the best way for children to grow intellectually and emotionally.


Ruth said...

You choose such great issues to write about. They are always the same things I am thinking about and concerned about. And I'm sure I'm not the only mom who feels that way.
This does look like a good book, I think I need to check it out. I'm trying to build more structure into my day (after our move, that is) and actually set aside time for things like reading, playing at a park, and playing music. Sometimes with no plans we end up in a rut.

Meaghan said...

Thanks Ruth. The Susan Gregory Thomas book I mentioned is a great one, too.