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BabyFirst TV: Entertaining Babies So You Don’t Have To

I almost feel dirty writing critically about a TV channel aimed squarely at babies and toddlers: I am guilty of allowing my two children, six and two, to watch too much TV. But, honestly, the only parents I know that don’t allow their children to watch TV are those elitist, pseudo-smartypants, new-age worrying types; and their kids are psycho too – trust me I’ve seen them in organic and whole foods stores. So while I know too much Spongebob Squarepants might cause my children to have a rather fanciful vision of the undersea world, generally speaking, they seem no more nor less screwed up than their non-TV watching peers.

So what’s wrong with a 24-hour, all babies all the time TV channel? Perhaps nothing, and possibly a lot.

BFTV – BabyFirst TV the first ever of its kind, offers around the clock television programming, with a target demographic between “6 months and 3 years of age.”

BabyFirst TV is a subscription-only channel with zero advertising. It currently features English only, but promises to branch out into Spanish, at least, by the end of the year.

The current cost of the channel is $9.99 a month, which seems kind of pricey for one channel. You would need your child to do A LOT of sitting in front of the TV to make it cost effective; especially when you consider that PBSKids offers free children’s programming during the peak viewing hours for children, early morning and after school (my kids also dig the McLaughlin Hour hard – riveting stuff there). Sesame Street is a perennial favorite in our house.

BabyFirst TV is proud of the research and development that went into the channel’s creation, and they will be the first to tell you.

    What makes BabyFirstTV unique is that it is the first cable and satellite network in the U.S to offer high-quality content for babies and their parents when and where you want it, and we also offer interactive tools to help babies and parents learn and play together. In addition, BabyFirstTV provides positive, friendly and educational content similar to best selling award-winning baby DVDs such as including Brainy Baby, First Impressions, and So Smart.

BabyFirstTV claims the following “unique programming elements” that aspire to create a “safe and enjoyable experience” for parents and babies, including:

80 percent original content, such as Rainbow Horse, Sandman, I Can Sign. This is less repetition for baby than a single DVD, which features 20-30 minutes of content;

Award-winning content from popular DVD brands (Brainy Baby, First Impressions, So Smart, etc.);

Interactive subtitles to guide parents as they interact with baby;

A color-coded programming guide to demonstrate the educational value of each segment;

Stimulating daytime and soothing night/naptime content;

Multi-layer content that is adaptable to all levels of a baby’s development;

And coming this summer, programming geared toward parents offering tips and advice.

The 24-hour commercial free programming aspect is appealing. Being able to turn to a channel that has something age appropriate always on could be very convenient, from a parental perspective. Although I don’t know too many families that have small children up and watching TV at three in the morning – but who am I judge.

Even more than the “always on” appeal, I especially like the fact that it is commercial free. The biggest gripe I have with the cable networks geared to young viewers are the ravenous marketers and advertisers subliminally raping my kids’ minds to buy their products. I can’t tell you how many times I have said “no” to some product that my children absolutely insist they must have, simply because they saw it on TV.

It’s not the programming in my opinion that is inherently evil, but the mind-screwing that kids are bombarded with by the product-hocking devils.

There is a lot to be said for cable that already has networks geared to children. We watch a fair amount of Nickelodeon (and their morning preschool block, Nick Jr.) and we tend to pick and choose: choosing less Romeo and Zoey 101, and more Spongebob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, and Fairly Oddparents. And Noggin offers commercial free programming for young kids throughout the day.

Too much television isn’t good for obvious reasons. We want to encourage our children’s imaginations and engage their body and minds in play that promotes physical and mental development. But I can attest to the fact that my two-year-old gets more exercise rolling around on the floor, having dialogues with Dora and laughing at Spongebob than he does with me pushing him in a stroller around the park for an hour.

Rarely will my children sit still and just watch, viewing is often accompanied by playing with each other and the various toys and activities we keep out for them. When they lose interest in the tube — which is pretty quick — they let us know and we turn it off and do something else.

One attribute of TV (and popular culture in general) I ascribe to wholeheartedly is that it can provide important cultural touch points that kids can share with their peers. Access to these tools of socialization is a benefit many parents and naysayers often forget.

From my own experience, I have seen my two-year-old become aware of the nuances of humor, empathy and outright silliness watching television programs geared for children. I don’t believe you can instruct children to what’s funny – it’s something they pick up on their own. The spontaneous laughter that erupts when my children see something funny tells me that they are learning important life skills about how to have fun, let go and roll with the punches.

But even with commercial free, age appropriate programming available 24 hours a day, as with most things in life, moderation is the key.

About Dawn Olsen

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