Samantha has many methods to soothe herself when she is hurt or upset. Sometimes she sits on the step where we used to give her time-outs and cries until she is done crying. Sometimes she kisses her own toe when she stubs it. But my favorite is how, when she really needs some comfort, she says, KISS TOBY, FEEL BETTER, and gives the dog a kiss and a hug. Works every time!
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I was listening to NPR yesterday and some blowhard music critic comes on bashing American Idol and the fact that Kris Allen won over Adam Lambert. Now, if you didn’t watch the show, Adam was a kind of glam-rock, goth, musical-theater-type and he had the most amazing range and technique. Kris was the boy-next-door-type, but with an interesting voice and style. I didn’t really have a dog in that fight, since I was rooting for the 3rd and 4th place contestants, Danny and Allison, but for the record, I did vote for Kris because I didn’t personally like Adam’s voice, even while being blown away by his skill and creativity.
Anyway, this pompous creep starts out by bashing the entire show, saying how he’s hated it every single year, and how an artist like Little Richard would never have had a forum on the show, the implication being that the show caters to the lowest-common denominator of poor taste and lack of originality. He hated it, that is, until this year when Adam Lambert showed up. Then this jerk spent a few minutes explaining why Adam Lambert is a god. Thanks, mister, for your opinion. And, of course, Kris was the most boring and pathetic singer of all time because, 1) he is handsome, 2) he is not “threatening”, and 3) he can sing well in a way that pleases many people.
When Kris won and Adam took 2nd place, this guy said that a friend texted him, saying, “Adam Lambert’s defeat was the delayed red-state backlash against Barack Obama’s victory.” The critic said, “He was kidding. But not really.” I turned off the radio at that point to note his exact words.
Let’s set the angry-left irrationality aside. Still, I think this windbag missed the point: American Idol is a popularity contest, by definition. And Adam Lambert, a guy who wears eyeliner and turns a Johnny Cash song into a freaky, dirty, middle-eastern song (my favorite performance), came in second, and will now become a huge star. I never thought he’d make it as far as he did. If anything, his success on Idol mirrors the Obama victory.
The critique reminded me of a time when I was a little girl, watching the Miss Universe pageant on TV. When the winner was crowned, I said, “Wow! We’re looking at the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world!” and my dad said, “No. She’s just the winner of this contest. There are surely many other women out there even more beautiful than she is.” I was disappointed because I thought it was amazing to see the absolute best of something, and I’m not sure I was ready for that lesson. But a grown-up music critic has no excuse for making a child’s mistake.
Maybe we shouldn’t let children such as him watch TV at all.
I recently commented on Rational Jenn’s latest post about how she handles her children’s screen time. There’s been a great discussion in the comments and Jenn asked me to clarify my own. So since I do take requests, here’s an expanded version of my view on the matter.
In general, I don’t think there is anything wrong with television, movies, and video games. They all have their place and they are Good Things. So let’s get the extreme views out of the way.
It is quite obvious that sitting in front of a screen like a zombie for hours and hours a day is just a waste of precious time. Movies and television shows are entertainment (and sometimes art), to be used for relaxation and as a break (and sometimes as spiritual fuel). By definition, this should supplement your usual activities, not take them over. The same goes for video games which are less passive, but still fundamentally recreation. Let’s all agree that watching too much TV is bad for kids and adults alike. We’ll get more specific later.
On the other hand, some people view all screen time as inherently bad, for all ages. I can’t even imagine a reason for this view, it is so absurd. I think the only reason anybody even considers it is because of the horrible morality of renunciation called Christianity. Christianity damns every conceivable human pleasure, including sex, eating for pleasure, using technology to ease physical burdens, and even dancing. We now scoff at some of these sacrifices (see, Footloose) but even those of us who have explicitly rejected religion sometimes succumb to elements of the morality it has infused into our culture. Altruism and sacrifice in general are seen as noble acts, and the mind-body dichotomy is everywhere in our culture. We are suspicious of anything that appeals to our lowly physical needs, because it is the spiritual that we should be focused on. Television is seen as a pleasure of the body, not the mind/spirit, and so it can’t be good. But, as always, the evil can’t survive without the good. Nobody can act consistently on false ideas, or they would die. Without relaxation, humor, and physical pleasure, life would not be worth living. So, many people start from this premise but moderate it by deciding that TV is ok in small doses, or that television shows are bad but movies are good, or that video games are allowable because they can be educational. Although there are rational reasons for those views, what I’m saying is that much of the time, I suspect people are coming from the irrational premise and just happening to arrive at a reasonable place. I think it is absolutely critical to reject the bad premise from the start and to state emphatically that, fundamentally, television, movies and video games are values. Whew! It felt good to write that because that kind of renunciation makes me very angry.
But just because something is good doesn’t mean that it is good for everybody, all the time. Enter: children and television. We’ve already eliminated the extreme views. Obviously we don’t want our kids to be zombies and we don’t want to deny them pleasure or teach them that pleasure is bad.
I take the position that some kinds of TV and movies are inappropriate because they are not intelligible at the child’s level of development. But I must say that as long as the viewing time is limited, it makes no difference because the majority of the child’s environment will be intelligible. What we must avoid is too much sensory data that the child simply can’t grasp, or he will start to develop a metaphysical world-view that he is not capable of understanding his environment. In other words, for all you Objectivists out there, you don’t want to give him a malevolent-universe-premise: the core belief that the world and/or people are unintelligible and he cannot use his mind and act to achieve values.
This is exactly the Montessori principle of giving the child a challenge, but making it something that is possible to succeed with. You give a one-year-old blocks, but not Lego’s. You give a two-year-old a pegboard but not a shoelace to tie. There is a hierarchy of knowledge, and for babies and toddlers who are learning to resolve the chaos into entities and to observe cause and effect, TV is simply inexplicable. It’s not that they can’t understand how the CRT or the radio signal works. It’s not even that TV is “pretend” or displayed on a screen. It’s that they can’t possibly understand the content of most children’s shows.
I really think that it would take quite a bit of chaotic input to harm the child this way. But it would take a whole lot less than 2 hours a day, which you might say is reasonable for an adult. As a baby, it actually probably matters less. Babies don’t even perceive entities when they are first born. They must learn to integrate the sensory data they observe into percepts and then entities. While they are in this state, and even some time after, I think there are some great things they can watch on TV. One video I liked to let Sam watch when she was little was a Baby Einstein DVD with classical music and images of movement and color in the form of toys spinning, water flowing, and lights dancing. I wouldn’t say that this type of video is going to make your child smarter, but I do think that the rhythmic, isolated movements were exactly what she was able to process. Also, occasionally watching the nightly news with its discussions of violence, or even a wrestling match would be less of a concern for a baby than for an older child, since they couldn’t make anything out of it anyway.
I think by 1 or 2 years old, the child can distinguish that there are characters acting on the screen and that it is “pretend” in some vague sense, and also, if they have been read to a lot, that there is a story. I know they can’t really understand “pretend,” but they can understand that the things they are seeing are on a screen, not in the real environment around them, and that this has some different status.
But what are they showing on the typical shows for that age group? I tried Dora the Explorer and there was a representation of a cursor on the screen moving around and pointing to things and making a clicking noise. WHAT? The things Dora was doing had no relationship to anything my child does. She was traveling and solving mysteries or something. I don’t think watching that show occasionally will harm my child, but why bother? I much preferred to let Sam watch another Baby Einstein DVD which had nice music and scenes of airplanes, boats, cars, and trains. She had seen all of those things in real life and was just learning all of their names. Again, I don’t think it’s “educational” so much as it is simply intelligible.
We also watch Little Bear which has talking animals. That actually bothers me a little, but not enough for me to ban all shows and books with talking animals – there would hardly be anything left! But Little Bear is a show about a child, in the form of a bear, who does things that children do. Little Bear chases a dandelion fluff to make a wish. Little Bear breaks a treasured item and tries to put it back together. Little Bear gets sick and his friends can’t come over so he is lonely. Little Bear wants to stay up all night but eventually falls asleep. Once a child can understand stories, I think this is a perfect kind of television show. Also, importantly, each story is about 8 minutes long. Movies, no matter how simple, are just too long for a 2-year-old.
There are probably plenty of other good shows. I like The Backyardigans, but I only let Sam watch it occasionally because I think it’s just a bit too advanced. We watch Milo and Otis together sometimes, but she can’t last long enough to watch the whole thing, and parts of it are scary. We also watch videos on YouTube: swing dancing, ballet, whales jumping out of the ocean, funny cats and dogs, funny babies, and Schoolhouse Rock (totally inappropriate cognitive content, but fun music and I just couldn’t wait to show it to her, which is perfectly consistent with my view that a little bit of the unintelligible is just fine).
As for the computer, we now use it only for the videos, music, and typing. I plan to teach Sam to read, write, and type, pretty much concurrently. She is already interested in all three, so we often sit down at the keyboard and I’ll help her use one finger to spell out words. We do the same thing with pen and paper – I guide her hand in making letters and words. We don’t plan to introduce any other games for quite a while. If Sam does start reading, we might try something like Starfall, which Rational Jenn recommends. I think there is nothing wrong with using games like that as a supplement to other, real-world activities. Again, the danger lies in the loss of experience in the real world. I think the sandpaper letters are a more important tool than anything you can find on a computer.
Rational Jenn made a point about how there are a million and one things that are unintelligible to a child, and that the whole point is that they need to learn to sort it all out. What is different about TV? Nothing, in small doses. But if a child sits and watches an hour or two of TV every day, it will be one of the biggest parts of his life. What else does a child do for this long of a time period? There is something in the idea that TV sucks you in, even when you are not engaged, and that is the only thing that I would call a “danger.”
And so this is where the parenting comes in. Rational Jenn’s post was all about how she lets her children monitor their own screen time, and she steps in only if she sees that it is going too far. She also has only a limited selection of programs for them to watch. I’ll have to take back the comment I made on her blog that I disagree with her, but only a little. I agree with her in principle, especially after seeing how much she does monitor the content. Sam is too young to turn on a show for herself, but she already walks away sometimes before I want her to, if she gets bored. Our neighbors, who are excellent parents, set a time limit for their 8-year-old, but he sets the timer and uses it to remind himself to stop. I think the amount of screen time a child has does not have to be a huge battle or a big deal, if the rest of the parenting is going well. I don’t think most kids would want to sit in front of a TV all day if they hadn’t already been trained into it when they were much too young, and if there are enough opportunities made available to them for more interesting pursuits. Based on Jenn’s post, I’ll be less likely to step in and set a limit on Sam before she has a chance to regulate herself.
There’s one other issue that is nagging at me now: the issue of appropriate content in books. We’ve always read Sam anything and everything, but I’m wondering if that isn’t the same mistake as letting a child watch any kind of TV show. We’ll have to rethink that next time around.
Yes, next time. We hope.
Samantha is in the “mine” stage.
THAT’S MY DOLLY.
THAT’S MY SHIRT.
THAT’S MY JINX.
We love her awareness of this concept, and we actually encourage her to identify the things that truly are hers. Of course, she tries to claim everything in the universe as hers. This morning she was holding a magnet with the letter “O” on it, and saying, OH, OH. I said, “Isn’t it interesting that when you make the sound of the letter ‘O’ your mouth makes the shape of it?” Then I demonstrated a few times: ”Oh.” And then Adam started saying it too: “Oh.”
Sam said, HEY! THAT’S MY SOUND.
My 2-year-old knows how to eat an artichoke.
Samantha and I got in a big fight yesterday. She’s been on this anti-mommy kick for the past week and it’s really getting to me. She hits me and screams her head off and she’s happy to cooperate with anybody but me. I know this is something children do with the person they are most attached to, and I’ve been telling myself that I won’t take it personally, but still, at some level, I do. My patience is wearing thin and I’m getting angry with her much more quickly, which, of course, makes things worse.
Yesterday was not the worst of it, but it seems that it was the final straw for me. At some point in her tirade, Sam came around. I sat on the floor in front of her and I told her, “You’ve got to stop hitting me. I don’t like it. Hitting hurts. It really hurts my feelings, too.” And then I started crying. Bawling, actually. I realized that this was exactly what she needed to hear and see – that she was really hurting me with her actions. And she responded. She was contrite and probably a bit frightened. She said, HIT MOMMY. HURT. HURT MOMMY. CRY. MOMMY CRY. GET MOMMY TISSUE. And she ran upstairs and came back down with a tissue. One tissue. For me. It was almost worth all the pain of the past week just for that one moment.
…because I just watched Marley and Me. Loved it.
Here are some blogs I’ve been reading and have just added to my blogroll:
AisA Academy: Another Objectivist homeschooler – yea!
The Harry Binswanger List: Also known as HBL, this Objectivist e-mail list is one of only two discussion lists which I actually read and I highly recommend it, if only for Dr. Binswanger’s excellent posts. He recently added an “Excerpt of the Day” RSS feed, although I don’t think it’s working for me. Need to check that out.
Heroes of Capitalism: I love this blog, dedicated to honoring a new hero every day. The descriptions are brief enough to be read simply for pleasure, and who couldn’t use a little inspiration like this every day?
One Reality: One of my new favorites. Stephen writes on music, art, food, sports, and techie stuff. I’m looking forward to reading his Dennis Prager “rebuttal”but I’m saving it until it is complete. Dennis Prager is one of my favorite religious thinkers, if there is such a thing.
Voices for Reason: The official blog of The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. I’m really glad they got this going. Good stuff.
I was just about to write a tribute to Interjections when LB stole my thunder. But here it is anyway.
Schoolhouse Rock is one of those things that I love so much that I used to dream of sharing it with my child someday, even before I knew if I really wanted to have a child. And now she is here, and she’s old enough, and we watch it together. And sometimes, out of the blue, she’ll say to me, “Darn, that’s the end,” and it makes me cry.
Rational Jenn’s latest post about how she handles food issues in her family reminded me of my family’s new dinnertime rhyme:
Adam and Amy could eat no fat
Samantha could eat no lean
And so between the three of them
They licked the platter clean
I’m so glad I’ve been liberated from my fear of fat, or Sam would never have known this love of hers. The dog, on the other hand, is not so happy.
Holy crap, I’m so busy and so tired. I have a long list of things to blog about, a few of them quite interesting, so I hope you’ll stick with me until I have more than a moment to spend writing. In the meantime, here’s Samantha’s idea of how to apply makeup. She wore it all day.
Adam just said this to our sweet dog, who is supposed to be a Labrador Retreiver, but since we got him from a rescue, we don’t know for sure:
Toby, you may not have gotten the Lab’s love of water. You may not have gotten the Lab’s love of retreiving. But you got the Lab’s Love.
Samantha learned how to open doors this week. She’s finally tall enough to get enough of a grip on the round doorknobs in our house to turn them and pull. This means two things: 1) She might come out of her room at night at any time. It hasn’t happened yet and I have no idea how in the world we’ll handle it when it does. Maybe we’ll use the Supernanny method. But on the bright side, 2) she can now come out of her room in the morning on her own so we’re one step closer to sleeping in again someday.
Welcome to the May 21, 2009 edition of the Objectivist Round Up. This week presents insight and analyses written by authors who are animated by Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to Ayn Rand:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
“About the Author,” Atlas Shrugged, Appendix.
So without any further delay (and in no particular order), here’s this week’s round-up:
Gus Van Horn presents First, “Access.” Now, “Excess” posted at Gus Van Horn, saying, “In less than a year, advocates of socialized medicine have gone from complaining that everyone can’t have medical care to saying that some people have too much of it!”
Exalted presents “Atlas Shrugged”, “The Objectivist Ethics”, And Exalted Moments posted at Exalted Moments, saying, “The sales rate of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” is triple the rate of 2008. Given the attention of the novel, it is important to understand Miss Rand’s point in writing it. Many think it was “prophecy”. Many think it was to organize a strike (“Going Galt”).
Many would be surprised to hear Miss Rand’s answer: “Exalted moments.”"
Rajesh Dhawan presents Is rationality a virtue worth emulating? posted at Objective extrospection, saying, “Discussing Gina Gorlen’s article in TOS about the Reason-Emotion Split as Manifested in House, M.D. the TV series. Popularity of the lead character Dr. House who is a medical genius suggests that people’s admiration for the virtue of reason is still alive and kicking.”
Paul McKeever presents The Interest Myth Exploded posted at Paul McKeever, saying, “advocates of capitalism should familiarize themselves with this myth, and with why/how it is a myth, because it is a such a virulent, anti-Capitalist myth and serves as the basis of many a pro-collectivist conspiracy theory.”
Monica presents A Reader Weighs in on the Nature of the NAIS Listening Sessions posted at FA-RM, saying, “The USDA wants to institute a National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a massive program to track all animal movements in the United States with RFID chips. This week a reader of mine reported on her experience at the recent NAIS listening sessions. You won’t want to miss it.”
Amy Mossoff presents Should Students Use the Internet for Research? posted at The Little Things, saying, “Some thoughts on why children should be encouraged to use the Internet for research – with plenty of guidance!”
Greg Perkins presents Standing Up for Truly Free Speech posted at NoodleFood, saying, “”So there I was, sitting among a couple hundred conservative folks, trying to figure out how I could point out hypocrisy and inspire a genuine stand for liberty without being booed out of the room.”"
The Editors present FDA Keeps Smokers At Risk posted at The Undercurrent, saying, “Although there is evidence that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than the traditional variety, the FDA is still actively interfering with the sale and importation of these products. Where does the government acquire the moral authority to do this?”
John Drake presents Auto economics – the future of Chrysler, GM, and other auto manufacturers posted at Try Reason!, saying, “Summary of a presentation by an economist specializing in the auto industry. In spite of the presenter’s flawed philosophy, there were many interesting facts and trends.”
Rational Jenn presents Keeping Kids Safe posted at Rational Jenn, saying, “Teaching kids how to be safe doesn’t necessarily need to frighten them if you keep a focus on the factors that are inside their control–and if you teach them to talk to the right kinds of strangers.”
Kathryn presents Movie Review: Vitus posted at The Pursuit, saying, “Kathryn from ‘The Pursuit’ reviews Vitus, a Romantic film about a young piano prodigy who uses his remarkable intelligence in order to find the freedom he needs to pursue his values.”
C. August presents Miracle at Philadelphia: QOTD 3 posted at Titanic Deck Chairs, saying, “The third in a series of posts pulling quotes from an excellent history book about the men who hashed out the Constitution in 1787. The author noted that then, there was “no quarrel between human rights and property rights” as there is today. I look at what that really means.”
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Objectivist Round Up using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.