I distinctly remember how cowed I felt when I visited the house of another family from my birthing class. It was my first child, and the classmates from our birth preparation series were all we could see of our "peers" as new parents. We had one Baby Einstein video. They had the entire Costco-packaged series! How could we ever compete!

Somehow, we managed to compete on the television viewing playing field, but now it turns out our friends' well-meaning "investment" in $100 or so of baby videos may have been a stunningly bad one. Slate reports that baby television and videos? Might cause autism. (Related: we're having behavioral issues with our oldest son that are pretty major.) (Also related: we just cancelled cable two months ago.)

The aha! moment came when researchers (and separately, the Slate reporter) realized that autism rates began increasing at about the same time VCRs and cable television started becoming common in homes. The problem is in the two-dimensional stimuli; too much, and the brain, craving three-dimensional stimuli, goes off on a wrong course.
My second son, Truman, was born when his brother was almost three years old, and thus had the distinct "advantage" of being exposed to his brother's television shows at a very young age (that photograph is of him, at not quite a year old, watching The Backyardigans, and I'm tortured with guilt just looking at it). He's speech delayed and I wonder, did I do this to my kid?

Whether scientists ever make a connection between considerable exposure to television at young ages and autism, it's quite a relief financially. We're saving almost $100 a month on cable and related costs, and I guess it's time to sell the old Baby Einstein DVDs.

Should you rethink how you're spending your time and money on media if you're about to have a baby, or have young children in the home? Absolutely. No matter what. Not only could TV watching potentially be harmful to your child's brain, it will also be harmful to your budget; advertisers are out there specifically targeting your two-year-old child to start building brand loyalty now. Since I've curtailed television, I've noticed a marked decrease in the amount of stuff my kids ask for; and their diet has slowly been getting healthier, too, as they stop being reminded they really want Sunny Defruited Beverage, or Sugar-studded Super Flakes, or Yogo-poppers or whatever expensive pseudo-health food is being hawked to kids on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel and even PBS.

And just remember: any time you start to describe a method of entertainment, whether for yourself or for your children, as an "investment," you're only justifying a purchase you really don't need (and probably can't afford). I only wish I'd put all those years of cable bills into a college fund for my children.

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