Moms, Parents

#Parents: TV Is Not as Bad for Babies as We Once Thought

A study published in Child Development, conducted at Emory University and sponsored by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (a division of the National Institute of Health), revealed that infants under 2 can learn signs from television time.

While the American Pediatric Association (APA) issued earlier statements advising parents against it, putting your baby down for a few minutes’ worth of an educational video is not so bad after all.

During the course of the three-week long investigation which took place through the Video Learning Lab at Emory University, parents introduced their 15-month-olds to ASL signs at home, either through videos or a picture book.

The best piece of information gleaned from this study is that when it came to video viewing, babies who watched with parents for approximately 15 to 20 minutes recalled a significant number of the 18 signs presented.

They performed just as well as those who learned from books. In addition, those that watched videos alone (without a parent next to them), also retained a significant portion of the information.

The findings suggest that television time for tots is not as harmful as we’ve been led to believe for years.

Once a week, the Emory team quantified their subjects’ learning outcomes by having them pair pictures with their matching signs. Parents also reported each week whether they observed their babies using these signs.

When the three-week period ended, researchers retested the children one week later to determine what they were able to remember. Recall was assessed specifically by having the infants produce signs when they saw pictures of the objects, and by asking them to point to the picture that matched the signs.

A leading author of the study, developmental psychologist Shoshana Dayanim, Ph.D., explained that the study was unique for a variety of reasons: It was a controlled one wherein the only way for subjects to learn signs was through this study during its allotted time periods. While previous research has been conducted with infants and language, — a murky area where it is difficult to control what is learned — the Emory exploration consisted of approximately 15- to 20-minute intervals of exposure.

The study uniquely presented the babies with expressions to actually employ and simultaneously understand.

Dayanim further explained that infants use signs interchangeably with verbal words and can sign words earlier than they can vocalize them. This not only helps communication in the present tense, but research supports that signing positively impacts vocabulary in early childhood.

Knowing that the American Pediatric Association once advocated for keeping infants away from television altogether, it is interesting to see there are benefits to TV learning — in a controlled environment.

Dr. Dayanim made it clear that Emory was not declaring“Watch TV!”, but that under the right circumstances, instructional learning can actually take place through instructional videos with children under 2.

The one drawback of the study was that researchers were not able to determine exactly when to draw the line on video watching.

Parents may want to play it safe by keeping educational viewing to a minimum as the researchers did.

If a parent needs 15 to 20 minutes to unwind, explained Dayanim, their baby can actually learn something in the process.

Just don’t bother with sight words at such an early stage. The research only attests to success with signs.

Reality TV

#BB20: Cruel Cruel Summers

As a mother of four fairly independent sons, I feel a little less atrocious excusing myself to steal away for guilty pleasure TV consumption..

than I did when my youngest two were toddlers.

However, the fascination with the erratically scheduled reality show Big Brother began at an inconvenient period of my life, a time when I was more apologetic about cramming it in.

“Why are you watching this show now?” my husband once asked nearly a decade ago, “Didn’t this take up an hour of your time last night?” Sheepishly, I replied “Yeah, they announced last night that it would continue tonight. It’s a major competition secluding people in a house who rarely see sunlight. The schedule NEEDS to be condensed so people can return to their lives.”

It was as if that could explain it all away. To strike a compromise regarding time allotment, I made the decision to break from all other programs on all other networks. It’s ludicrous how much of a commitment today’s TV shows require (also see: The Bachelorette, 90 Day Fiance, shows that often demand 2 hour chunks of viewing a singular episode).

As I nursed my newborn twins nearly nine years ago, I somehow was rapt by the day-to-day minutiae of polarizing strangers sharing a house with the end-goal of being the last one in it. Alliances form in the process of plotting to overtake the house, but none can truly be trusted as the individualistic objective is to wipe everyone else out.

Astoundingly creative physical and mental competitions are held to secure positioning in the house as well as one’s safety. Far more captivating however, are the social dynamics and inevitable backstabbing that occur on Big Brother. Viewers find those scenarios most relatable as they are metaphorical to everyone’s lives. Consider the themes of: Trust, loyalty and how one maintains dignity while trying to come out on top. How many real life situations can you apply to that symbolic structure?

I’m not one to play underhanded social games, but I’ve been on the receiving end of them. I have had to learn how to combat sneaky people, plotting and competitive coworkers and the like… Ignoring folks is the strategy I most often employ, but that’s far from an option in this reality TV game if your desire is to triumph.

Another aspect of Big Brother that has me glued to the tube? “Showmances”. It is always fascinating to me to observe and note how romantic relationships form either due to boredom (There is a lot of downtime for contestants who are stripped of phones, technology or anything connecting them to the outside world and its news), bonding over shared duress, or legitimate connections that wouldn’t have formed had a bunch of random people not been thrown together under the same roof. More importantly, under the same roof sans outside interference or assistance.

The anachronistic notion of not being able to Google or Facebook- research a romantic interest rings sweeter in today’s day and age. Of course, you cannot help but ponder whether or not a couple will have staying power beyond their seclusion in the dry-aired B.B. House. There, the rare glimpse of sunlight (in limited outside moments restricted to right beside the house and no farther) is a treat.

From an anthropological viewpoint, what’s almost as intriguing as the game dynamics is the way the show has usurped the summer hours of its fan base. It is one thing to be committed to a television program, but quite another to pay for the show’s much-dissected “live feeds.” Many fans do this and what that entails is tuning in to the events of the house as they occur 24/7. With the feeds, fans get to witness a lot of the dramatic happenings that will ultimately be left on the cutting room floor.

The live feeds have also inspired an entire social media subculture: Fans interact with one another and weigh in on occurrences that do not necessarily make it to the televised footage.

From an objective standpoint, you might declare “why would I be interested in the every move of a stranger in a house?” Bear in mind that those in charge of casting have not chosen humdrum, uncomplicated individuals. They’ve selected a deliberately eclectic mix, while foreseeing intense clashes and connections.

Troy McEady tweets about being glued to the Big Brother live feeds each summer.

They have also chosen contestants with a wide range of views, knowing that some of the more conservative notions will garner shock and dismay from the more liberal critics (and vis versa).

The B.B. experience reminds me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series that was so popular during my childhood in the 1980s.

As this is the 20th season of Big Brother, there was no social media when the show was first created two decades ago. However, from early on, B.B. called upon the audience to impact the game. In the age of social media, it is an exquisitely simple feat, with the viewers choosing game twists and even godawful meal selections (such as what constitutes “slop”) as punishments for the contestants.

Know that watching Big Brother may require a far greater commitment from you than you ever imagined possible. Once you become interested, you’re likely to become invested.

Suddenly, you may find yourself not only choosing players’ adventures…..

but how you spend your summer.


Did You Watch ‘You Can’t Do That on Television?’ Here’s Why You Should Have


(Christine McGlade headshot for You Can’t Do That on Television, photo provided by Christine McGlade)

Once upon a time, long before the advent of the Internet, and well before we all carried cell phones, a group of unknown kids boarded a bus from school to a small Ottawa TV taping facility. There, on most days and even on weekends, the children – who had little to no acting experience – would read through kid-focused scripts and add their own improvisational flair. According to Christine McGlade, now 51, and back then the eldest of those funny-yet-mainly-untrained kids, there had not been the formal casting process (characteristic of today’s shows) for what would become You Can’t Do That On Television(YCDTOT). In an hour-long phone conversation, Christine keeps me riveted (her voice reminds me of the fascinating narrator of the Serial podcast, Sarah Koenig), chronicling life back then and how she feels YCDTOT changed television and was a sort of precursor for reality TV.

“Saying ‘we were plucked from the schoolyard’ is metaphorical,” says Christine, but she emphasizes that this is how it actually worked: “We went to the station where they put us alone in a studio in front of a camera and asked us questions. Then, they put us in drama classes taught by the amazing Carole Hay: If we didn’t cut it in drama class we never made it on air and Carole provided us with acting training that we would never have received as non-actors. She was amazing.”

Christine explains that, before “cable” even came into existence, the sketches were initially slated for a live local show: “Cable came in with Nickelodeon and many people had no idea what cable even was. We began doing our sketches in 1979, on the heels of Laugh In (which the show has been compared to: ‘Laugh In for kids’) and right as this new show Saturday Night Live was beginning.”

Christine McGlade would have the opportunity to work alongside Ruth Buzzi from Laugh In, yet she would grow up humbly, never considering herself to be a “TV Star.” In the age of Lohan and a certain Canadian kid (Bieber) that may retrospectively have been a blessing in disguise. Christine simply thought of herself back then as someone who had a job that she enjoyed. In fact, she would never actually stop working, going off to college during her final years of YCDTOT (when the show was already on Nickelodeon and quite popular), earning an art degree and working in entertainment before settling into the realm of digital media. She did manage to find time to have three children (two of whom are twins in their 20s, the other is 16) and is otherwise private about her family life.

(Les Lye, Christine McGlade and Ruth Buzzi, photo provided by Christine McGlade)

Professionally, however, Christine is outspoken on her endeavors and it is quite clear that she has worn many hats in the business world. Most recently, she designed and is in the midst of launching an app that teaches kids about website coding.

It kind of makes me (but not her) sad to think that Christine doesn’t fully realize that “Moose” was watched and admired by so many children. (“Moose” was her nickname in school and the name of her character on the show that would go from Canadian TV to Nickelodeon in a few short years, becoming the most popular show on the network in 1984.)

Perhaps she was somewhat overshadowed by some of the regular ole major network shows of the time: Silver Spoons, Different Strokes, Facts of Life. But I have to say, I for one was watching Nickelodeon, a much more age appropriate television channel. I barely remember Tootie or Blaire (or even Rickie Schroeder’s character) as I remember the green slime that drenched Christine overhead when she deigned to admit the 3 little words: “I don’t know.”

Back then, Christine wasn’t treated in any out of the ordinary manner in school, nor was she recognized much (although she relates one bizarre story about Americans who came to Canada unannounced- actually, to her house – to meet her. It’s sort of a sweet fan story, yet creepy and stalkerish). My sister, middle brother and I remember watching “Moose” on You Can’t Do That On Television. The cast member we don’t remember as well is Alanis Morissette, the renowned singer who would have a role on the series before she furiously hit the airwaves as a famous woman scorned (if lyrics are testimony). Christine, however, made more of an impression on us in the 1980s. She was always willing to laugh at herself, to be the butt of the joke (in one episode, she discovers that her mother is paying off the other kids to be friends with her. In another, she is informed of a “raise,” much to the chagrin of the other kids in the cast — all, of course, part of the show). On the show, she was visibly caring and protective over the younger cast members. Also, time and again, she seemed really cool about being “slimed” as the inevitable response to not knowing something.

Green slime is now Nickelodeon’s emblem, logo and largely, its claim to fame. Those who never watched You Can’t Do That On Television would never realize how affected by it they actually were. For instance, The Amanda Show, which would air on Nickelodeon years later and star Amanda Bynes (this was probably when my youngest brother, now 31, too young when YCDTOT bonded us 3 older siblings, tuned in to Nickelodeon himself) was another example of kids taking over and running the show with their comedic chops. While Real World on MTV was the first program to showcase a group of unknowns in coerced cohabitation adjusting to the challenge of claustrophobic living, You Can’t Do That on Television was the first case of unknown kids working together and seamlessly adjusting to the challenge of doing so on camera. Creator and writer Roger Price, alongside director Geoffrey Darby, involved the cast members in the process so that they could make adult decisions towards shaping the final product. Due to this highly collaborative process, this was the first show, Christine relates, that was truly “produced by kids for kids.”

For Christine, who would become an innovator in digital media over in Canada, You Can’t Do That on Television is symbolic. Back when she was a child star who didn’t consider herself a child star (she was academic and unconcerned with comparisons, but she would probably consider, say, Jason Bateman, Drew Barrymore, Macauley Culkin, Malcolm Jamal Warner and Neil Patrick Harris to have been child stars), there was no Youtube, no Netflix or Amazon, and certainly no social media and video sharing. She was just a hard-working student who also made a show, and would move to Toronto at age 21 to attend arts school. She would go on to earn a BFA and end up directing and producing a lot of television as an adult.

“I still work in media,” she says happily, “I’m just behind the camera.” While much of Christine McGlade’s work in recent years has had educational focus for kids, the irony is not lost on her: “You Can’t Do That on Television was kind of anti-educational” she explains. “It’s funny because I’ve worked in educational media and one of my former cast mates grew up to be a teacher. But actually, Roger Price was a very rebellious anti-establishment man. His thought process was ‘If the kids took over the studio, all these fun, silly, hilarious things could happen.” It was this unconventional approach of Price’s, explains Christine, that she feels was a “cultural precursor to what we now know of as “reality TV.”

(A “selfie” of Christine McGlade today)

In his book Slimed (2013), Matthew Klickstein explores all the shows on Nickelodeon that were worth revisiting. It is clear, according to Klickstein, that YCDTOT set the tone for the network. Christine calls it “that whole rebellion ethic” and adds “You involve the kids and it just flows. We were as close as it gets to the kids version of Laugh In and at first, no one thought it would ever fly! ‘Are you kidding?’ people thought, ‘channels above 13?!’ Back then (circa 1980), the association people made to ‘cable’ was “cheap,” a community kind of cheap that was not very credible.”

Today, Christine McGlade loves to hear from fans who have found her on Facebook, Twitter or through old clips on Youtube. She remembers all the other castmates fondly since she was somewhat of an older sister to them. I ask her about Alanis Morissette even though I’m quite sure this is a trite, tried and true move, but I justify it to myself, as a big Alanis fan, with: “Come on, You oughtta know!”

“Ah, she was a very talented singer and she was only on a couple of shows because she already had a singing career. ‘Moose’ was a little older than the other characters and there was some churn in the cast. Over the course of the show, there was a huge bank of kids. Some of them made it on air and others ended up being on even more. I stuck around almost for the entire run, from age 14-23, while most kids were there between age 10 and 13. Alanis was a true professional who I remember doing improv, and I remember her in the studio. Adam Reid was another kid who now acts and also directs. I also still see Abby (Hagyard, who played “mom”) and several of the other characters.”

Alasdair Gillis, one of the most popular boys on the show for his affability, who my siblings and I remember quite well, is now successfully working outside of entertainment in Ottawa and, according to Christine, is an “uber” professional in social services. She has met up with him in New York and had the opportunity to reunite with other former cast members there at the Slimed book launch party last year.

Unfortunately, relates Christine, an incredible colleague as well as friend and mentor, veteran “amazing comedian” Les Lye recently passed away.

My brother Elie Hirschman, 40, has an uncanny memory for YCDTOT. He can probably quote back certain parts that some of the cast members may have forgotten they even said. In back and forth discussions about the show and my interview with Christine, he reminds me: “Les Lye was the MAN. He was not just the dad, he was EVERY MALE ADULT PART. He was Barth, the producer, the announcer at the beginning, Blip the arcade guy, the jailer, the firing squad guy and Snake Eyes the bus driver.”

He adds: “Alanis who? Christine, Lisa (Ruddy), Alasdair, those were our buds…”

Christine is very thoughtful and nostalgic when talking about that time in her life. “We didn’t want to be famous,” she says, “That was never my goal or the goal of most of my colleagues back then.”

Christine’s current lifestyle reflects that “I never wanted to be famous” attitude. Now that she manages her own digital marketing business, she relishes the fact that working for herself allows more flexibility than beforehand. This is the type of settled feeling I pray to have at some point, and for Christine, who has notable accomplishments under her belt by age 51, it is well deserved.

She looks back on the YCDTOT time fondly: “It was all very quaint and local. We didn’t miss much school and I got all my schoolwork done. I guess this type of a scenario with such great balance (between school work and TV tapings) might not have been possible today.”

The hard part for Christine about not having wanted to be a famous child is that today, in the age of Facebook, she feels some weird responsibility to fans. It’s “weird” because, as she explains, she’s not an actor and didn’t really want to be one, but she did always want to be a writer and I guess that is what makes her feel compelled to write and blog, to answer questions, to share and tell her story. And as “weird” as a predicament as she sometimes feels she is in, she has reconciled it. She even asked me to provide her Twitter handle and a link to her blog below so that she can remain connected, so that she can respond. Moose made a connection to her fans and that connection was never really severed. The things is: There is Moose and then there is Christine. Moose wants her fans to know Christine. Christine today is a digital media expert, a sophisticated app developer, a woman who has spent time creating educational programs for kids. Drawing from her youth, she is also passionate about the non-educational world, a world that can be characterized as Chuck E. Cheese states in its corporate motto: “where a kid can be a kid.”

“There are a lot of good things that came out of going to work every day as a kid,” Christine reflects, “such as developing a great work ethic. Everybody worked very hard, which is something so unique to a group of kids. I’m thankful that we weren’t too famous because a side effect of fame is being recognized and when that happens, it can feel like a privacy invasion that never goes away. We were really protected from a lot of that.”

In a sad turn of events, she says, the old YCDTOT studio in Ottawa later burned down. Today, there remains its big empty lot and every once in a while, Christine will be in that area and drive by.

“There’s something sentimental and nostalgic about that lot,” she says.

Christine admits that she rarely gets recognized in Canada, but when she visits New York that changes. There was obviously a big fan base, fellow cable watchers like myself who eagerly awaited the ceremonious dumping of green slime on clean heads in the 1980s and then (when I was in college and no longer watching) into the 90s.

Reflecting on her life over three decades ago, Christine talks about how she’s glad she had no long-term plans for acting:

“I think that acting and modeling at a young age can be, for some, like putting all your eggs in the appearance basket. While good agents, directors and production are clued in to talent today, it can still become a problem when ‘cute’ doesn’t work anymore. Education and life experience are very important. I was fortunate that I was already an academic and already fairly bookish and academically inclined. Also, we’re all such helicopter parents today, but my own parents – parents of the 70s – were immigrants from Belfast. They opened the door, sent us out and then saw us again at dinner. When it came to the show, my family made it “my thing.” On the other hand however, my dad appeared on the show at one point and so did my sister and brother and we really had a lot of fun together! I guess one of the best things looking back, in terms of myself and the rest of the cast: We never made enough money to do significant damage. As far as I know, there were no typical tales of woe attached to the kids on the show like there are for some of today’s kid celebs

.”When it comes to young actors today, current reality TV shows, and to celebrities affected by their own fame, Christine McGlade is a breath of fresh air. I think about some current and former child stars who are reportedly getting into mischief, who allegedly have more money than they can manage, and who inevitably land into trouble with drugs and the law due to (also reportedly) improper management. I’m reminded of some old song lyrics. However, in my head, I sing them in the voice of Christine McGlade, who is a decade my senior and definitely the wiser: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way? Kids, what’s the matter with kids these days?” (She wouldn’t necessarily sing that. Those are my words, not hers, but you get the gist.)

We don’t have to end here in our story about You Can’t Do That on Television. After all, that’s not what modern times dictate, so because we can, let’s begin: