Staying with the language theme, however loosely I may be following this supposed thread, I was reading today about the latest plea from pediatricians for parents to prevent their young children, those under the age of two, from watching television. They claim that watching television harms the development of language. Parents talking to and with their children apparently is better than television. Obviously, given my age, I watched much less television than children growing up today, in fact I watched precisely no television until about the age of four when mom and dad finally scraped together enough money to buy a set. You see how old I am? I still call it a television set, not just the television. Clearly my language skills are greater than those who had a television in their first two years because I use more words. I imagine that many years ago pediatricians and academics were pounding out papers telling us all that allowing our children to listen to excessive amounts of radio would soften their brains. Soon we will unearth a scroll in which various high ranking courtiers were predicting that excessive reading of the products of Guttenberg’s printing press would lead to the death of conversation and a diminishment of listening to the lute. None of these doctors and experts can explain to me how listening to and watching television is worse than listening to parents. I gather that it’s that awful word “interactivity”. The child will, I am told, be more linguistically adept if the activities in which it is engaged involve some sort of back and forth. None of these doctors seems aware that what goes on in a child’s head is entirely opaque. When my daughter watches a television program she laughs at the jokes, she covers her face at the scary bits and she switches channels when it’s boring. This indicates at least some form of thought for which we must now use the word “interactivity”. She is reacting, she is thinking and she is probably listening to people with better grammar than most parents. The only reason parents want the television turned off is because they want to talk to their child. They want to know what is going on in their child’s life, at their school, with their friends. Here’s what’s going on in your child’s life: everything is more interesting when she is watching television and less interesting when she is talking to her parents: school is dreary and utter drudgery: she does not want to discuss her friends because that’s private stuff and interesting precisely because you, her parents, know nothing about it. As for the younger than two year old, she likes bright colors, she likes the songs and the songs teach her language better than you do.
I am contemplating earlier generations who had much less television, including my own. Without going back too far let’s list a few of the things that these linguistically adept people have given the world. The First World War. Soviet Communism. The Second World War. Vietnam. Trickle Down Economics. Rupert Murdoch. Apartheid. Need I go on? Had earlier generations been watching more television there might have been greater harmony. I have stood in a pediatrician’s office and been told that my child should eat low fat food despite massive evidence that eating less fat is about the worst thing you can do for your health. The same doctor told me that we should play Mozart to our child. There are no words in any language for how utterly fatuous this notion is. I have conducted a study recently that took me about thirty seconds and involved precisely one participant, myself. I asked a simple question: Which is worse for your child, watching television or doing what pediatricians tell you? All the evidence I have gathered in the thirty seconds of the study suggests that your child should watch television. It’s funnier, it’s better written, it actually is intended for the child and not for you or your child’s doctor (and to sell lots of toys, as opposed to your child’s doctor who is trying to sell you lots of drugs) and it is utterly harmless.