Category Archives: television

Old School Sesame Street

by Stacey

Ahh, Sesame Street.  Remember this? “The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.” Why am I not surprised to learn that according to this article in the NY Times, our preschool age kids can’t handle it?

Recently released DVD’s of the old versions of the show come with a warning: “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Good grief. “The old ‘Sesame Street’ is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper ‘Elmo’s World’ started,” the article says. “Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original ‘Sesame Street’ might hurt your feelings.”

[The writer] asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

“Which brought Parente to a feature of ‘Sesame Street’ that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

I haven’t watched Sesame Street lately, but apparently Cookie Monster eats a more diverse diet than just fistfuls of cookies. Too bad. Why can’t our kids take delight in the idea of a blue furry monster who gets to eat as many cookies as he wants? I didn’t think I was going to be allowed to do that, but I thought it was funny that he could.

I think the old Sesame Street was pretty damn great, actually. Here’s what the article says: “People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading.” I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want our kids to learn that.

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Health Briefs…Through the Years

by Stacey

Lots of good stuff from the November issue of the Journal Pediatrics.

Let’s start with the babies. One new study called Are We Overprescribing Antireflux Medications for Infants With Regurgitation? shows that babies who are treated with drugs for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, may not actually need the medication. According to the study abstract, “The majority of infants who were prescribed antireflux drugs did not meet diagnostic criteria.”

Researchers conducted esophageal pH monitoring (measuring the reflux or regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the esophagus) of 44 infants in a New Orleans medical center. Each of the children had persistent regurgitation. The study showed that while only eight of the infants had abnormal pH levels indicating GERD, 42 of 44 infants were on antireflux medication. When medication was withdrawn from the infants who did not meet GERD criteria, reflux symptoms did not worsen.

My son Sage was a “persistent regurgitator” as an infant. Oh, he regurgitated all over the place. On me, on himself, on the floor, on the furniture, on the airplane, you get my drift. It was a mess. Our pediatrician diagnosed him with reflux, but since it wasn’t the painful kind, he didn’t mention anything about treating him. I’m glad too, because what did I know? Probably if he had told me that Sage needed medicine for his constant barfing I would have given it to him. Do no harm, doctors, do no harm.

Now on to the little guys. Another study called, Early Violent Television Viewing Associated with Later Anti-Social Behavior, found a link between violent television viewing by preschool boys (ages 2 to 5) with antisocial behavior at ages 7 to nine.

According to the study abstract, researchers reviewed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (a nearly 40-year study of 8,000 U.S. families) on 184 boys and 146 girls. The data review found a link between pre-school-age boys watching violent programming and antisocial behavior at ages 7 to 9. There was no link found between non-violent television viewing and antisocial behavior in boys or girls, or violent programming and anti-social behavior in girls. The study authors say the findings are significant as early childhood aggressive behavior is often a predictor of violent behavior in youth and adolescents.

I couldn’t make my way online to the full text of the article so I’m not sure what violent TV means or what defines antisocial behavior. Neither sound good. Sage doesn’t watch “tough movies” as he calls them. But his imaginary friend Hippy does. According to Sage, Hippy likes “the punching kind.” Yikes. I just hope Hippy’s parents are prepared to deal with the fallout.

And finally, a new study entitled Shorter Sleep Duration Is Associated With Increased Risk for Being Overweight at Ages 9 to 12 Years, found that kids this age who did not get enough sleep were more likely to be overweight by sixth grade. According to the study abstract, shorter sleep duration in 6th grade was independently associated with a greater likelihood of kids being overweight. Shorter sleep duration in 3rd grade was also independently associated with being overweight in 6th grade, independent of the child’s weight status in 3rd grade.

Conversely, for every additional one hour of sleep in 6th grade, a child was 20 percent less likely to be overweight in 6th grade; every additional hour of sleep in 3rd grade resulted in a 40 percent decrease in the child’s risk of being overweight in 6th grade.

For me sleep deprivation translates into energy deprivation which I try to make up for by eating sugar. I can’t believe the sweets I pack away when my kids’ sleep is chronically interrupting my own. Maybe that’s what’s going on. Or maybe the kids in this study were squirreling away boxes of cookies that they ate in the middle of the night by flashlight under the covers. After the insanity I’ve witnessed around here over Halloween candy, I’ll believe anything.

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Toxic Girlhood

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by Stacey

I’m deep into raising two little boys so that means I know a lot about trains, planes, sticks, and shovels. But a couple of articles I’ve read recently, one in the NY Times and the other in the Wall Street Journal, have got me thinking about the daunting prospect of raising girls. Thanks to Salon’s Broadsheet for the tip on both stories.

The WSJ piece looks at the increasing pressure on girls and teens to dress fashionably. According to the article, high-end designers such as Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Missoni, and Alberta Ferretti have all launched clothing lines for kids. And trendy boutiques in New York are opening offshoots specifically for children.

Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who has studied teenage behavior for 14 years, says she has seen an increase in “bullying related to clothes.” She attributes that to the proliferation of designer brands and the display of labels in ads. In the more than 20 states where she has studied teens, she has been surprised by how kids revere those they perceive to have the best clothes. Having access to designer clothing affords some kids “the opportunity to become popular — and that protects you and gives you social power and leverage over others,” she says.

Surveys of young teenage girls show that many of them feel they are bullied over clothes. One survey of more than 1,000 middle school students at five schools in the Midwest found more than one-third responded “yes” when asked whether they are bullied because of the clothes they wear. While the prevalence of fashion bullies was greater in wealthy cities and towns, where more designer clothing is available, the researchers found the problem is significant in poorer communities, too, the article says.

“The better brands you wear, the more popular you are,” says Becky Gilker, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Sherwood Park in the Canadian province of Alberta. “If you don’t wear those things you get criticized.” In many schools, the most expensive designer goods, such as those by Chanel or Louis Vuitton, have the highest social ranking among girls. But popular teen brands such as American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale are also important. Miss Gilker says Hollister and Roxy are big logos at her school.

Chanel? Louis Vuitton? I can’t imagine buying my kid a Louis Vuitton anything. Not even a fake Louis Vuitton lunchbox. Is this what parents of girls are dealing with?

Several new programs are trying to help parents, teachers and girls cope with bullying. In Maine, a nonprofit called Hardy Girls Healthy Women has developed a curriculum that has caught on at a number of junior high schools and is being adopted in after-school programs in Florida, Ohio, New York and other states. The program encourages young girls to build coalitions and gets them to look more closely at the messages they get from the media, including those about fashion and clothing.

I suppose that’s a good thing, but honestly, is there anything adults can do to combat this? In her NY Times column last week, Judith Warner (author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety) talks about a new book that was just released called The Daring Book for Girls, a kind of sister book to the mega blockbuster The Dangerous Book for Boys.

The authors told Warner they wanted to offer up “an escape route out of the high-pressure, perfectionist, media-saturated and competitive world of girlhood in our time.”

“The Daring Book for Girls” teaches the art of playing jacks and handclap games, roller skating, darts, jump rope, gin rummy and daisy chains. There’s fun and old-fashioned feminism: “Putting Your Hair Up With a Pencil” and “A Short History of Women Inventors and Scientists.” Instead of e-mail, instant messaging, group weigh-ins or slumber parties organized around “America’s Next Top Model,” the authors offer instructive chapters on “Clubhouses and Forts,” “Writing Letters,” “Telling Ghost Stories” and “Fourteen Games of Tag.”

The Dangerous Book for Boys spent 20 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and is slated to become a Disney film, Warner says. “If the “Daring” book does anywhere nearly as well, then it could mark the start of a pop culture re-imagining of modern girlhood – one, perhaps, with an emphasis on doing rather than seeming, on growing rather than shrinking, and on exploring rather than shutting down.”

But she’s skeptical that this will actually happen. The book may promote bonding between mothers and daughters, much in the way that dads pass down tricks of the trade to their sons. “I wonder if it will have any wider effect,” she writes. “What power can any of us – moms and daughters, adrift in the cultural mainstream — have against the hugely seductive, hypnotic machine that has brought us Paris, Miley, Lindsay and more?”

A family counselor I heard speak last Spring said she believes that young girls today who get caught up in skinniness, fashion, popularity, pop culture and boys are, essentially, “underemployed.” Their brains, she said, need to be engaged by things larger than themselves: things like hobbies, sports, art, music or community service. If they’re not, there’s a vacuum, and all kinds of wretched stuff comes to fill their minds instead.

There isn’t a simple answer to relieving the social pressure on girls. “We can’t – and shouldn’t – raise them in a total media vacuum,” she says. “The only thing we can do is provide some sort of inspiration – of a kind of womanhood that makes them want to connect to the better aspects of the girlhood we once knew. And then, give them the space and the time to make it their own.”

Whew. So what say you moms with daughters? How are you faring in these waters?

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Filed under family, girls, kids, media, mothers, parenting, teenager, television

Toys for Girls and Boys

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by Stacey

The toy company Hasbro has recently gotten stuck in a scary 1950’s time warp. According to commercials for a new toy called Rose Petal Cottage, little girls can play happy homemaker with all the benefits of laundry machines and state-of-the-art kitchens. Thanks to Catherine Price from Salon’s Broadsheet for the tip. She explains:

According to the commercials, one of the best parts of the Rose Petal Cottage is that it gives your little angel a chance to practice her home-decorating skills. I’m not kidding. Click on the video link, check out the one called “Dreamtown for Moms,” and watch as the toddler rearranges her sofa and crib, presumably to make room for a teddy bear muffin party.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t encourage kids — both boys and girls — to dream of having their own homes, families and baking sets. I’m just surprised at how unabashedly anachronistic this one seems — I mean, couldn’t you balance out the scene of her doing laundry with a shot of a pretend computer? Or a desk? Or maybe, I don’t know, a book?

I have to admit, I like rearranging the furniture as much as the next gal, messing with my home decor if you will. But here’s where I draw the line: “In the commercial called “Dreamtown for Kids,” an overly enthusiastic singer croons, ‘I love when my laundry gets so clean/ Taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream!'” Sorry, but singing about the laundry just isn’t credible in my book. Thankfully Price adds this verse: “Rose Petal Cottage is so pink, pink, pink/ As a toy for girls, it stinks, stinks, stinks!”

Hasbro doesn’t stop at stereotyping little girls. They’ve also got some new marketing for their line of Tonka trucks that’s based on the tag line “Boys: They’re just built different.” Again, Price explains:

In the ad, a little boy presents his bemused mother with a bouquet of flowers he has pulled out of the lawn and then tramps back outside, leaving a trail of dirt in his wake. The ad continues with scenes of little boys riding through the house on their Tonka trucks as the narrator explains reasons that the trucks are perfect for boys. “With the Tonka Scoot N’ Scoop, they can play their way,” she says. “It’s built around what he does naturally.”

What exactly is it that boys do naturally? According to the commericial, riding through the house on a toy truck chasing the family dog and busting through a pile of pillows presumably set in place on the floor by mom. Or as Price puts it, “whatever the hell they want.” She adds: “It’s quite a different scene from the muffin-baking, home-decorating, laundry-doing world of responsibility going on in the Rose Petal Cottage.”

Price is careful not to bash the idea that boys like to play with trucks or girls like to play with playhouses. And of course, that’s true to some extent. My son woke up one morning in love with garbage trucks and went on to love every other truck on the road along with anything else that moved through space via wheels, engines, sails, or motors. That boy loves him some transportation.

But he also loves to bake and cook. He’s psyched about the new kid-sized broom we just got him. And he’s very gentle with his baby brother who he likes to help wash in the tub. He even told me that he likes to play with the dollhouse in the childcare room at my gym.

I wonder what he would think if he saw these ads. Would he decide that just girls play house and just boys play trucks? It would be a reasonable conclusion. The thought of it makes me sad.

I think Price sums it up well. She says that ads have an effect on people’s self-perception and kids are particularly open to learning to want what they’re told they should want. “So I don’t like the fact that while the girl is shown meticulously rearranging her living room furniture, the boy is deliberately messing up the living room as his mother smiles in the background with a look that all but says, “Boys will be boys!” To which I would respond, sure — but boys and girls will also live up to the expectations we place on them. So we’d better be careful what those expectations are.”

What do you all think? Do toys reflect the larger culture? Are our kids going to grow up to be like Ward and June Cleaver? Or are these just a couple of random toys in a sea of plastic fun?

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Flicks In-Flight

by Stacey

The other day a reporter I know sent me an email looking for a quote about a family-related topic she was writing about for her travel column. I agreed. At issue was whether or not airlines should show movies in-flight that contain violent content, considering there are almost always some young children on board.

The topic was newsy because last month Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.. introduced the Family Friendly Flights Act which would require a separate seating area for kids and families “if a covered air carrier provides publicly viewable entertainment screens on which violent in-flight programming is displayed.”

The bill was prompted by the outrage of a parent names Jesse Kalisher who was flying with his kids in a plane that showed the movie King Kong. “The children were sleeping, but Kalisher was upset that, if the kids were awake, it would have been impossible to shield them from scary scenes in a movie rated PG-13 for violence,” the column says.

That movie does have some really scary scenes. I saw it on cable TV and I definitely wouldn’t want my three-year old watching that movie.

Kalisher would like the airlines to agree to show only G or PG-rated material during flights, but the airlines don’t seem interested in complying. He gathered a group of like-minded parents and now we have the Family Friendly Flights Act. “Ideally we’d like airlines to self-regulate and come up with a system that provides entertainment that appeals to adults but doesn’t terrify children,” Kalisher said. “This legislation will at least require airlines to make sure kids can’t see the monitors.”

I would be in favor of a family-friendly section in airplanes. As my friend Meredith pointed out, maybe the airlines could throw in a perk and hire flight attendants who actually like children. And I have an idea, maybe in the family-friendly section, there could be a normal place to change diapers, instead of on the floor, which I’ve had to do. Or in the impossibly small bathroom where your baby looks at you like you’re crazy the whole time you’re trying to keep him balanced on the changing tray and deal with the diapers.

But back to the column, I kind of waffled. One the one hand, I agreed with Kalisher that it’s hard for parents to keep their kids from looking at the movie screen and I said that it is up to the airlines to show content that won’t traumatize some of the passengers on board. But then I also said that I didn’t think the airlines should be required to show only PG and G-rated films. I guess I don’t think the world should have to stop and step aside just because my kid is coming its way.

So basically, I contradicted myself. What do you guys think? Should airlines be required to show kid-friendly films or is a family-friendly section the way to go?

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The Open Post

by Stacey

Last week I read numerous blog posts skewering Bill Maher for criticizing women who breastfeed their babies in public. On his show Real Time with Bill Maher, he said the following:

Look, there’s no principle at work here other than being too lazy to either plan ahead or cover up. It’s not fighting for a right. It’s fighting for the spotlight you surely will get when you go all “Janet Jackson” on everyone. [laughter] And get to drink in the “oohs” and “aahs” from the other customers because “You made a baby!” Something a dog can do.

What an ass. (The part about breastfeeding comes at the end of this video of the segment, “New Rules.”)

My question is, Why go there Bill? We like your liberal politics. Breastfeeding mothers aren’t the enemy. Why piss us off?

And by the way, you’re an idiot. You wouldn’t be sitting there on television spouting off at the mouth if some woman however many years ago hadn’t wiped your ass everyday and fed you whatever the hell it was you ate way back then so you could grow up to be a functioning human being. Unless you were an orphan, show some respect. You know not what you speak.

Whew! Okay what’s up with you all? What do you think of Bill Maher? And what else is on your mind these days?

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Baby Einstein Smackdown

by Stacey

Remember last month’s story about how Baby Einstein videos were bad for babies? Well it turns out, I missed the boat on the follow-up. One week after the news media had a ball with a University of Washington study that showed videos such as Baby Einstein can inhibit language acquisition in young children, The Walt Disney Company (owners of Baby Einstein Inc.) wrote a pissy letter to the president of UW demanding a retraction of its news release.

The letter was penned by Disney CEO Robert Igar to UW president Mark Emmert.

Dear Dr. Emmert:

On behalf of The Walt Disney Company, and our subsidiary The Baby Einstein Company LLC, I write to demand the immediate retraction and clarification of a misleading, irresponsible and derogatory press statement issued by the University of Washington on Monday, August 6, and thereafter posted on the University’s website, regarding the publication of a study by three University researchers entitled “Associations Between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years.”

This should be fun.

At the outset, let me make clear that we have no quarrel with the notion of conducting research into how infants respond to media products in general or “Baby Einstein” videos in particular. We welcome well conceived and well executed research of all kinds, particularly involving media products and children. We are always seeking to improve our products as we continue The Walt Disney Company’s proud tradition of providing wholesome and enriching experiences to children and families.

Well isn’t that grand. He goes on to say the study’s “methodology is doubtful, its data seem anomalous and the inferences it posits unreliable.” Here’s one thing to consider. The study was published in the highly prestigious journal Pediatrics. That means it was peer-reviewed and that issues such as its methodology and the reliability of its findings were assessed by people who don’t have a billion dollar stake in the findings.

Then there’s a long blah, blah, blah section which I’ll spare you here in which he tries to prove that the study is poor and that the press release issued by the university overstated the results.

Whether your University is comfortable associating its name with analysis of this quality is, of course, your decision. And I would not be reaching out to you if all that was at stake was a poorly done academic study. But the actions of the University have caused much more to be at stake. Wholly apart from the merits of the study, the press release issued by your University blatantly misrepresented what the study was about, distorted the actual findings and conclusions that the study purported to make, and ignored the study’s own explicit acknowledgment of its limitations and shortcomings. And even worse, the University issued the release and triggered the fully foreseeable press cycle before the study itself could be analyzed. In short, the University’s press release was grossly unfair, extremely damaging, and, to be blunt, just plain wrong in every conceivable sense.

That Walt Disney guy must be hanging around too many kids. He sounds like he’s having a temper tantrum.

Following the letter, the two spoke on the phone, according to this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The conversation was reported to be “cordial and amicable” and Iger did not threaten to sue.

After discussing the matter with the study’s authors and reviewing the disupted press release, Emmert replied in a letter to Igar.

The paper set out to “test the association [italics added] of media exposure with language development in children under age 2 years.” It did not purport to establish a causal relationship, as the authors explicitly state in the article. The authors found a large and statistically significant reduction in vocabulary among infants age 8 to 16 months who viewed baby DVDs or videos, compared to those who did not view them. They also concluded that more research is needed to determine the reasons for this statistical association.

The authors of the study and I believe the news release reflects the essential points made in the research publication. The news release clearly is not intended to substitute for a reading of the research paper, which was made available to all the reporters who contacted our news office. The news release briefly summarizes the methodology of the study and includes the researchers’ interpretations of the findings, something in which most news media are interested and one of the reasons for issuing the release. The researchers find no inconsistencies between the content of the news release and their paper. They believe the release accurately reflects the paper’s conclusions and their commentary. For these reasons, the University of Washington will not retract its news release.

I guess all that heavy-handed bullying didn’t really get Disney anywhere. Except that now all of us parents know that Disney really doesn’t care if Baby Einstein videos might make our children stupider instead of smarter. I think this is an interesting view behind the curtain. Giant corporations act like they can just roll over academic institutions and government regulators. But in the end, what matters is whether or not consumers believe in their image. And after seeing this letter, Disney isn’t quite as wholesome anymore.

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