The Perfect Solution?

By Mark A. Taylor

A grocery cart with a video screen for entertaining the kids may seem like a good idea to some parents. But when I heard about it on the radio the other day, I wanted to scream out loud.

“Whatever happened to talking to your kids? Whatever happened to interacting, teaching, enjoying ?” Am I just an old fogy for thinking some technology goes beyond what we really need?

The video grocery cart, according to the report, is being test marketed in several U.S. cities. For just $1.00, patrons rent the thing and give their preschoolers a choice of videos by Barney, the Wiggles, or Bob the Builder.

One young mother of three seemed pleased with the arrangement. “Nobody wants to grab everything off the shelves,” she said. “We can just sit and watch TV while Mom shops. Mom shops alone now.” Alone!

Even more disturbing was the reaction of a grandfather who had traveled cross country to see his 2 year old grandson. “Let’s put it this way,” Grandpa said about the toddler watching the video. “He’s quiet in there. It’s the best idea in the world!”

I couldn’t help wondering why he brought the boy with him to the grocery store or why he came to visit him in the first place. So he could keep him quiet?

A Harvard Medical School psychologist interviewed for the segment was less than enthusiastic. “Do we really want to raise a generation of children who are either anxious or bored unless they’re in front of a screen?” she asked. Video screens for kids are everywhere, she said. Parents buy videos for babies and personalized DVD players for toddlers. Kids watch videos in dental offices and in the back of minivans.

She might have mentioned one more venue: church. Faced with volunteer shortages and ever shorter attention spans among the under 12 set, children’s ministers have to improvise. Sometimes video seems like the perfect solution.

“We can just sit and watch TV while one worker takes attendance.”

“Those kids are quiet in there. It’s the best idea in the world!”

Don’t get me wrong. We watch videos at my house, we’ve shown videos to preschoolers we know, and I’m proud of Bible teaching materials with video segments developed by Standard Publishing.

But the radio report makes me want to shake parents by the shoulders and ask them to think twice before plopping their kids in front of a screen. If children don’t learn to observe the world around them and have no chance to talk about it with parents and teachers, what kind of adults will they become?

When media substitutes for relationships, we’re all in trouble.

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