Wednesday, October 14, 2009
At my oboe lesson today Kyoko and had a good laugh over the fact that a Baby Einstein video she saw recently introduces little kids to the instruments of an orchestra but does not include an oboe.
"No oboe! Can you believe it?"
"I guess they skip tuning altogether," I said wryly.
"The wind section did have a saxophone and recorder, though," Kyoko recalled.
On my way home I started thinking about videos and television for kids. I do think these media get demonized a lot. They're not all bad; some programs are quite good and well-produced, in fact. I can still sing some of the Sesame Street jingles from my 70's childhood. I think it's excess or poor quality that should be criticized.
That's one thing I have to admit I found annoying during Obama's campaign: he kept telling parents to turn the T.V. off in a tone I found rather critical. I whole-heartedly agree in principle that too much T.V. can be a bad thing - as can too much of anything - but I found such an unqualified imperative presumptuous. There are many things on T.V. my kids and I would not have wanted to miss enjoying together, just as there are things on film, in books, in museums, and in any number of sources that we would cherish as well. I didn't appreciate being judged for something that so far has not been a hindrance or a big problem to our children's development.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to parenting advice.
On the one hand I resent the manipulative condescension of some parenting books, gurus, and medical personnel - those that claim to know what's best for children, assume that we don't, and proceed to tell us that we should do as they say, or else our children might not grow up to be smart, talented, successful people - the implication being, of course, that it's not enough to be an ordinary, hardworking, decent person; one must be smart, talented, and successful (whatever that means).
There's a fear-mongering tone in some of the patronizing "advice," almost a superstitious-ness: Oh my goodness, better not let your toddlers even SEE a television set before the age of two; they might grow up to be illiterate, violent pot-heads! They might not become "worthy" of an Ivy League School! Ack! Don't let little ones crawl into bed with you when they have nightmares! They might not learn to be independent! Hmm. An independent three-year old? Isn't that an oxymoron, and isn't it SUPPOSED to be an oxymoron? Isn't it better to console a fearful, tearful child and let him or her know there's someone to turn to for help, and it's ok to ask for it?
On the other hand, I deplore the equally manipulative messages of companies that market products designed (supposedly) to boost children's developmental capabilities, intelligence, or whatever else people think needs boosting. There's magical thinking in such messages - an appeal to our superstitious side, the part of us that needs to try to control what happens in life. Hey, folks - what we do now can make them geniuses later! Don't you want to do what's best for your child?
I am very much in the moderation camp. What we do for, and more importantly with, our children has some impact on their future, but so does what our children are physically and chemically born with, and what they discover apart from our influence. There's only so much we can control. Mozart isn't a magic spell; sharing music with our kids, and really listening to it and each other, might be, though.
Do I let my son play video games? Sure. I'm comfortable with that because he also reads at least two grade levels above his actual grade and voraciously devours books with curiosity and thoughtfulness. Do I let my daughter watch T.V.? Yup. We try to watch with her. We respond to the shows she likes. We also respond to the songs she composes and the stories she writes, the films she dreams of making, the shows she's in. We try to put nutritious food in front of them but we don't criticize them (or beat ourselves up) as if it were the end of the world if they have a slice of cake every once in a while. Moderation.
There are a couple of things we do try to be consistent about. We try to make sure we can answer yes to the following questions -
1) Can our children perceive and be absolutely sure of their parents' unswerving love?
2) Are we teaching them right from wrong?
3) Are they learning, and motivated to learn? and
4) Are we spending quality time together as a family and with each of our kids?
Perhaps this sounds simplistic. Perhaps it's a little smug of us not to read piles of parenting books and stick to a hundred little rules we and our babysitters absolutely must follow. But here's the thing I can guarantee ANY parent, whether they fall closer to our style on the parenting spectrum or to some other style:
Are you a terrible parent?
YES, you are - sometimes.
Am I? Ditto.
Are you a wonderful parent?
YES, absolutely - sometimes.
Am I? I certainly hope so, at least some of the time.
Will most of our kids turn out just fine even if we make a few mistakes along the way?
I believe they will, barring any special problems or situations, provided we proactively teach them right from wrong, and they can perceive and be absolutely sure of our unswerving love.
That's my approach to parenting. I didn't get it from a book, or from my master's degree in child development; I just try to take my cues from my kids and to be there for them when they need me. I guess we'll see how that works out!