HOLLYWOOD — So, is the country turning out a bunch of Baby Einsteins? And will families, the country, and the media be the better for it?
Last week we learned that tiny tots, as young as six months old, are spending as much as two hours a day in front of the small screen. The study, by Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, says that more than a quarter of American kids under 2 now have a TV in their rooms.
And many of them are being force-fed, or are avidly absorbing of their own volition, DVDs and tapes like Disney’s “Baby Einstein” series, which purport to educate and expand the minds of kids.
Those who have the most ambitious or anxiety-ridden parents are being exposed to Bach cantatas, mathematical puzzles and nursery rhymes in foreign tongues — ensuring, the theory goes, that they’ll be a step ahead in the ferocious race to get into that elite kindergarten. (The practice gives a whole new meaning to the word cribbing.)
What this may do for the family life and social skills, let alone the eventual weight of these pre-verbal tots is debatable: Some psychologists are already scratching their heads over the long-term implications of seeding couch potatoes at such a tender age.
The consensus so far seems to be that moderate exposure to electronic media is acceptable but that it doesn’t make up for social interaction with family members and other children.
(Apparently, books placed under the pillow of John Stuart Mill as a child did set the 19th century philosopher on the right academic track, but his relations with his demanding father were forever strained.)
What exposure to Einstein, Mozart and Van Gogh so early on will mean for the media and cultural choices of these tots as they grow up is also a provocative question.
On the one hand, constant exposure to high-end media could lift their tastes in movies, TV shows and music, which some say have reached a new low of late.
Might kids weaned on “Brainy Baby — Right Brain” and “Mozart and Friends” end up eschewing “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in favor of “Under the Tuscan Sun”? Might these fast-tracked teenagers turn up their noses at “Fear Factor” and “The Bachelor” and watch only Ken Burns documentaries on their DVD players? Might they plug their ears to the sounds of Limp Bizkit and sync up Renee Fleming or Yo-Yo Ma recordings?
Or, as so often happens, might children just rebel against all the obsessive coddling, and grow as remote as the control buttons they’ve been pushing since they were in the cradle?
One thing’s for sure: If, as the study indicates, a third of these tiny tykes are already using computers, bookmarking their favorite Web sites and playing videogames, by the time they’re 12 they will be their own master programmers.
Personalized media, in whatever mix of high and low-brow, will have replaced so-called mass media.