Thursday, January 18, 2007

Entertaining Thoughts

I have two children, both of whom are great kids and great readers. Books have always played a big role in our family because not only do we believe in the importance and enjoyment of reading - we didn't have a television for ten years in our home! Yeah, we're one of those families. Or we used to be.

Last year, we did the unthinkable for Beth and I: we signed up for television to the great delight of our children. We did so, not because we realized that we Bierkoswere missing something special on television, but because Beth and I have expanded to writing music for children's television and we need to know what's in vogue these days. Our children, those lucky munchkins, didn't care WHY we were getting television, they were just tickled to know that they were getting it at all. They literally jumped up and down in a circle when they heard the cable guy was coming to our home.
Now, watching our kids and their relationship to television this past year has been really fascinating and different for each of our children:

Stephanie, our seven-year old, will watch TV for about an hour, maybe two at the most. Then she stands up, looks for us and declares, "Enough! I have to get away from this TV!" There's even been a couple of times when Stephanie has berated Beth and I for bringing TV into her life. (Now, that's not something anyone would have predicted.) So, when Stephanie is tired of the tube, she gets up and looks for a game, a friend to play with or a book. I still find this amazing and, unfortunately, uncommon. Most kids cannot balance their television-watching like Stephanie. Heck, most adults still struggle with this.

In fact, most American children are like my oldest, Helen, who is twelve and in the seventh grade. Helen can watch TV for six hours and only occasionally get up for a bit of food or to go to the bathroom. And, like other parents, we sometimes have to literally stand in front of the television in order to get her attention. My mother used to do that to me, too. She called it being "glued to the set".

Helen, even though she loves reading and is a straight-A student, is vulnerable to the passive, calming enjoyment of watching television. As we all know, this is extremely common in our society. My darling Helen is not strange or different from other kids. Uh, uh. In truth, it is Stephanie who is the "strange" child in our home with regard to TV.

As such, I believe that parents everywhere must be struggling with this question: "What do I do about it? How can I get my child away from the TV, the computer, the video games and back into the world of creative play or using their imaginations?" They want to know, "What's the answer and where can we find it?"

The answer, or one of them, is not to be found in a store. It doesn't even cost money! The answer to the question "How can I get my child away from the TV?" is that PARENTS need to provide children with something else that will interest them equally. And for that they have to take a step, a big step... backwards.

Backwards, you say? Yes. Some of the answers to today's vexing parenting problems are not to be found in the newest technological gadgets: the computer, the video game box, the mp3 player or, yes, the 42" HDTV parked where the piano used to be in every home. The answer is in yesterday - backwards - because it's something that's been around for kids and for families for as long as anyone can remember. It's stories, it's music, and
it's games.

The old-fashioned practice of getting together in a room, playing some fun games, singing some songs and reading or telling stories is as effective today as it has always has been. And, interestingly, we can see that stories, songs and games are exactly what TV, I-Pods and Video Games are all about, too. Think about the hit-show, American Idol: it's really just a singing game with a back-story! And Video Games, especially the warring kind or the sports ones, they're just replacements for the old-fashioned games like "war" that we used to play in my neighborhood.

Speaking of sports, what ever happened to throwing a football or skateboarding in the driveway? Well, now it's John Madden's Football or Tony Hawk's Skateboarding video games. That's a bit of a problem, not because these games are inherently bad - they're actually quite awesome! (I know one adult who has a job that keeps him idle at home for days at a time and he is toally hooked on these games.)

Therefore, to "un-glue" our kids - at least temporarily - we need to actively disengage them. We need to take the controllers out of their hands and lead them to a place where they can go do these activites themselves. Let me repeat that once more: our kids need us to help pull them in another direction.

Our role, as singers and writers, has always been to create live programs and products that are fun and educational alternatives for kids and families. But now, we do so with an increased knowledge (as parents ourselves) of the value that music and community has for our audiences. We see our role as more of an imperative, not just a diversion for children. And that's one of the main reasons Beth & Scott are starting to think about working in TV.

Beginning in March, 2007 we will begin creating television shows that will be available for viewing on the web. Our first show will be shot in Tennessee with the help of our longtime producer and friend, Jeff Coplan. Our goal is to create short-form videos that children, parents and educators can enjoy - videos that will entertain, educate and inspire. Watch this space and our web site for more information as it becomes available.

Oh, by the way - remember Helen, our dedicated TV watcher? Well, shortly after I wrote the first part of this entry, she lost her TV privileges for a couple of nights and here's what happened: Helen picked up a book and finished it. She also invented a new recipe for cookies with her sister that we're all enjoying today (me love cookies).

And me? Well, I've been writing a lot more songs since I've taken a breather from writing emails. Admittedly, we're not getting away from the TV or the computer anytime soon, but we're all of us a little happier when we unplug long enough to access the creative part inside of us all. That's what we hope to achieve with our new material, including our WEB-TV project. We hope to see you there!