My own preschoolers are doing all of those things. We listen to music, of course, and as with babies research indicates that music is actually good for preschoolers. They both watch about the average amount (under two hours a day) of TV, even though we no longer have cable service. DVD's fill any void that was left by the cable service, although it does mean that they tend to watch the same thing over and over again and that I have more control over what they watch because I am the one checking things out from the library and putting them on our Netflix queue. Carbon was using a computer at the age of 4, for simple educational games. And since we got a Wii both kids play some of the Wii games - they especially love bowling. The large motor action of the Wii and relatively mild and slow graphics seem better suited to young children than the other video game systems we've owned in the past. Both kids also have a Leapster handheld game and they each love to play those games.
So, is all of this OK for my kids? Should I labor under some Mommy guilt for all this media exposure, since I seem to be in the minority at least for the video gaming?
After reading this chapter in Unplug Your Kids I am concerned about how much superhero stuff I've allowed to slip in to their TV diet, stuff I would not have allowed Carbon to watch at the age of 3 but that now his little sister sees because she's with her big brother while he watches it. Dutwin identifies that TV can be fine for preschoolers, if it is educational and slow paced - such as Dora the Explorer or Mister Roger's Neighborhood. He also reports that it is much better to watch with your kids and interact about what they are seeing.
The main problem with TV that he identifies is that it can reinforce gender bias at this age - showing girls how to be girls and boys how to be boys. So, I really want to set some new boundaries around those superhero shows! Those things are Sexist with a capital S.
When it comes to computer use, Dutwin reports that the jury is mostly still out, but that software that is designed to be educational should be fine for this age. I'm going to say that we are OK with our JumpStart Language Club game and the Leapsters. I'm even going to say that the sports and fitness games on the Wii are fine (but I don't want them to do shooting games).
So then we come to the Biggie of media and preschoolers - Advertising. They just don't understand how they are being manipulated. It introduces more gender bias, it can make them want crappy junk food, and I think it starts them down a slippery slope of materialism and discontent with what they already have.
The quickie guide for media use for preschoolers:
- Keep the media devices in your control - NOT in their bedrooms
- Watch TV and play computer games with your kids, and interact with them in the process
- Know what your kids are watching and keep it to educational programs that show values you agree with
- Use your DVR or On Demand or DVD's so that you skip all the advertising.