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On-Demand Kids

I often worry that the on-demand media lifestyle to which many of us have grown accustomed will have a long-term negative impact on our kids.

There was a time, not long ago, when neither an iPod nor a DVR played a part in our lives. If I wanted to listen to a specific song, I had to find that particular CD in my collection or, if I didnt own it, drive to a store and buy it or call into a favorite radio station to make a request. I did that once in college during a late-night term paper writing session. Alas, Lights Out by Peter Wolf wasnt in my local stations library.

I can also remember when it was a big deal to catch a favorite movie or show on TV. It was a special occasion, for instance, to see the once-a-year airing of The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music on network TV, and Saturday morning was the only time in the week that I could watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.

In contrast, these days my daughter can theoretically watch Dora the Explorer at any hour of the day from our DVR, and even request specific episodesif we let her.
When were all in the family car together, were also no longer at the mercy of some homogenized local rock station. Instead, we pick a playlist to suit our mood, whether its Backyard Summer, Evening Etta (two of my better arrangements), or even a podcast of a favorite NPR show. My daughter, being two and half, likes to pick one song and listen to it endlessly.

As responsible parents, my wife and I are always looking to strike that delicate balance between proper discipline and over-indulgence. I want my daughter to learn about different types of music, and she has. Opera is her favorite, but shes also partial to Edith Piaf and an occasional big-band swing tune. I often cross the line into over-indulgence, however, when I answer the shouts of not this one or not Daddys turn with a song that I know will shut her up.

I also wonder if by succumbing to my daughters requests for a specific Dora the Explorer episode, for example, Im setting her up for disappointment when she gets older and doesnt get everything she wants. Dont get me wrong, we do set limits for our daughter and teach her the difference between right and wrong, and to say please and thank you. And Ill admit that theres a lot to be gained by the stuff that weve allow her to be exposed to (vocabulary, numbers, stories). My point is that in our media-rich culture its getting increasingly more difficult to avoid the electronic babysitter trap.

My own brain is awash in pop culture, and I was exposed to only a fraction of what my daughters will see. I like that I can swap movie quotes with the best of them or identify almost any song that comes on the radio. But, I still have an underlying sense that everything has its proper time and place and that, to quote the Stones, You cant always get what you want.

My wife and I will continue to work on that lesson with both of our daughters as they grow up. Ultimately, I believe that our positive influence and the rules that we set as parents will triumph over Dora and her friends…not that Dora hasnt been an excellent teacher. I love that my daughter can already count to 20 in Spanish, identify her alphabet, and do many other remarkable things before she even hits pre-school. She is a lot further along than I was at her age, but I just hope that she doesnt grow up too fast.