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Happy days (unplugged)

Have you heard about Disney’s new endeavor, “Disney Junior”?  It adds ten hours a day of new television programming aimed at kids ages 2 to 5-year-olds.  Disney Junior, to be launched in February, will focus on storytelling and social skills, instead of the academic focus of many preschool shows. You see, Disney did some of its own research and discovered what parents really want for their children. Check out this quote from a November 5th story in the Wall Street Journal,” The Turf War on Tots”:

To support its decision to focus on feel-good stories rather than core curricula, the company proffers a six-month study of 2,200 parents of preschoolers the company commissioned and conducted last year. These Disney researchers found that when parents were asked what they most want for their children, the most popular reply was for them to be happy.

Well, here’s the funny thing. Watching television doesn’t make us happy. The  Kaiser Family Foundation study from January 2010 concludes:

Nearly half (47%) of all heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower), compared to 23% of light media users. Heavy media users are also more likely to say they get into trouble a lot, are often sad or unhappy, and are often bored. Moreover, the relationships between media exposure and grades, and between media exposure and personal contentment, withstood controls for other possibly relevant factors such as age, gender, race, parent education, and single vs. two-parent households.

Ok. . . so the Kaiser Family Foundation research was based on 8 to 18-year-olds. But really, if heavy media use isn’t making our older kids happy, then it is a fair guess that it won’t make our preschoolers happy.  And we know that preschoolers are already spending 32 hours a week outside the classroom in front of screens  (Nielson Company, 2009). It seems to me that if Disney was truly concerned with parents’ desire to raise happy kids, then they would stop luring kids to the screen – and away from time spent outside, or playing alone, or playing with other children, or talking with their families.

And then there is all the marketing that Disney dumps on our children. Marketing of single-purpose, media-linked toys that entice our children with the promise of happiness – a happiness that doesn’t materialize. Check out this info from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood:

The primary message of commercial culture is that the things we buy will make us happy. In fact, that’s not true. Research tells us that our sense of wellbeing depends on relationships, a sense of community, spiritual nourishment, and/or job satisfaction, not on acquiring “things.” Children who are more materialistic are less happy, more depressed, more anxious and have lower self-esteem.

So, did you catch that?  Relationships, sense of community, spiritual nourishment and/or job satisfaction…these are what lead to happiness. Materialism makes us less happy and more depressed. I think it is fantastic that parents in the U.S. are now focusing on ways to raise happy children. Perhaps we, as a country, are waking up to the fact that we need to readjust our priorities. That is a good thing. I just don’t think producing more television shows for our 2 to 5-year-olds is the right solution.

Here’s what I’m thinking: Going unplugged. Spending quality time together.  Tuning in to nature. Playing.  Building relationships through small, connected moments. And giving Disney Junior a pass.

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