Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Into the Minds of Babes - Lisa Guernsey

Summary: As a mother, Lisa Guernsey wondered about the influence of television on her two young daughters. As a reporter, she resolved to find out. What she first encountered was tired advice, sensationalized research claims, and a rather draconian mandate from the American Academy of Pediatrics: no TV at all before the age of two. But like many parents, she wanted straight answers and realistic advice, so she kept digging: she visited infant-perception labs and child development centers around the country. She interviewed scores of parents, psychologists, cognitive scientists, and media researchers, as well as programming executives at Noggin, Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop, and PBS. Much of what she found flies in the face of conventional wisdom and led her to conclude that new parents will be best served by focusing on “the three C’s”: content, context, and the individual child. (Publisher comments taken from

My Review:

I love browsing the “New Non-fiction” tables at my library. I picked this up because I was in the midst of a change in my two-year-old’s TV watching habits. My recent pregnancy, resultant bed-rest, and concluding (thankfully) with “tired mother nursing an infant” had increased her TV watching from none - to a LOT of Seasame Street,” for which I was feeling guilty, and like I’d let down my standards. Because of the topic I assumed this book with guilt me into cutting back the amount of TV she was watching to “pre-pregnancy” levels (or increase my guilt when I didn’t).

Imagine my surprise when it completely justified, in a positive way, the TV my daughter was watching and in fact convinced me to add other children’s shows to the line-up. But wait, I don’t recommend this book because it justifies me, but rather, because it is an broad look at TV and children that relies on scientific information while and taking into account the realities of raising an child (or two) from birth through pre-school. I was so interested in what the author was telling me that I felt breathless as I read - does it make me lame that I would describe this as a "page turner"? This book was so balanced that I wish wish wish the author would research for me: vaccinations, methods of education, and whether or not I should move nearer my family.

A few highlights from the book:

While there are studies on how children learn from pre-school programming, this is in its own infancy and the kids heavily exposed to the newer programming (ie, Baby Einstein) haven’t even graduated from elementary school yet. So stay tuned for further research.

One of the most important and eye-opening things I learned was the effect of background noise on the development of language and vocabulary. If you have the TV, or radio, on all the time, even if no one is watching, you should read Chapter 4.

This book gave me “permission” to expand the shows my daughter watches to from just Sesame Street to include Thomas the Tank Engine, Dora, Barney, and Blue’s Clues. Within reason of course. (In fact it made me feel like I was short changing her by not letting her watch these shows, which some studies have shown increase vocabulary and “pro-social” skills.)

This book affirmed my decision not to let her watch full-length animated shows until she is older.

In addition to examining the effects of TV watching, this book taught me a lot about the cognitive development of my children.

My rating: 5 stars, a must read for parents of pre-schoolers.

In one sentence: A refreshingly and excitingly unbiased and realistic examination of TV's place in our homes.


Maria said...

You've convinced ME! :) I went to my library online and they don't have it yet...but I'll have to keep watching.

I also put "Wings" on my holds list. :) Hooray for friends who make me read!

Heather said...

I also MUST get my hands on this book. Even though my children are older (4 & 7) I have continually struggled with the tv viewing dilemma. How much is too much? Is everyday too often? Only on weekends, etc?

Lisa Guernsey said...

As the author of this book, I'm so thrilled to have happened upon this review! You've made my day. I'm pretty enamored of this whole site, actually. It's going on my own 'must-read' list.

I wanted to post a note to not only say thank you, but also to mention that I am continuing to write about early childhood issues of all kinds on a think-tank blog, Some of the pieces are very wonky (appropriations committee, anyone?) but others are just me writing about a veritable beehive of questions on how children learn, and how to give them the best environment to make it happen.

Cheers to everyone,

MindySue said...

Eeeeek! (she says oh so sophisticatedly)


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