The Electronic Nanny

You have to do it (unless you are among the lucky few who can afford a full time au pair):

You turn on the TV.

Is there a choice? The kids are bouncing off the walls, crashing around, misbehaving creatively. The TV quiets them down. They become perfect little angels. They concentrate on the program. They let you cook, do chores and housework. Relax. After all, your job is demanding and getting more so. You deserve time to just veg.

Photo by Julian Tysoe.
Photo by Julian Tysoe.


But then the guilt sets in. Are you turning your kids into drooling tube-staring automatons? Are you buying personal time at the expense of their future?

Here’s an effective antidote: stories.

8 ways stories (told or read) can counter the negative effect of television:

  1. Stories build love. Television, so isolating, doesn’t. It may sound new-agey, but stories create a space in which a child, or children, can thrill to the sound of your voice, your physical presence, your natural warmth. Your child will feel, vividly, your love. Children thrive on this.
  2. Stories let children become part of something beyond themselves, part of a family. Unlike TV-watching (which is always done alone, even when there is a group of kids), stories are a group activity (you and the child, or you and the children). Children need more of this in their lives.
  3. Stories are ancient. Television is not. Stories evoke your caveperson ancestors, the warmth of tribe, clan, family. They retain astonishing power. Expose your children to this and they will be thrilled. Truly.
  4. Stories help a child develop needed skills, ways to deal with this bewildering and often frightening world. Television creates fear, of violence, divisiveness, poverty, familial destructiveness. The heroes of stories are always courageous, ingenious, resourceful. A child exposed to stories will be stronger and resilient. These are qualities children need. Television does not reinforce them.
  5. Stories make wonderful “parenting moments” possible. Television does not. Here’s how it works: when you give a child a story, you are there. Your presence is an essential part of the experience. The child will be attentive to anything you have to say. Did your daughter exhibit positive behavior today? Here is your chance to reinforce it. Is there an issue in the story you want to expand on for your son? Well, go for it; after all, he’s listening. Stories make these moments work. They are impossible with television. If you try to make a parenting moment while your child is watching TV, they’ll likely simply tune you out. If they’re nice. If not, look out.
  6. Stories build success. They increase a child’s ability to follow complex narrative. To work with abstract patterns. Kids exposed to storytelling are better at math. Better at the stock market. Television, so bland, so enervating, does not do this.
  7. Stories create leaders. Television turns kids into mindless followers.
  8. Stories fire up a child’s imagination. Television does not.

We live in a digital world, of this there can be do doubt: TVs (in every room, often), tablets, smartphones, the ubiquitous computer. We must expose children to this. After all, the screens are central to the economy of this new world. But we can provide important balance.

We can give children stories.



Camping image, by Mary Brozic.

Sure. Why not combine the crackling magic of the campfire with the magic of storytelling? After all, this how stories began: at night, around a fire. Get in touch with our caveperson ancestors and let imagination, and fire, beat back the scary night. This is  why you went camping in the first place, to leave behind the frou-frou of modern life, commune with the wild stars, the crisp night air, the woods. Make the experience complete: tell a story!

A side benny: storytelling solves the problem of what to do between the end of dinner and crawling sleepily into the bedroll.

Anyone-can-be-a-master (1)

It’s true. After all, you’re creating stories for the most supportive, loving audience on the planet: your child. They will love anything and everything you come up with. Guaranteed.

Remember also that the sign of a successful bedtime tale isn’t enthusiastic applause, or wild cheering. It’s…



Micky J

Michael John OliveMy wonderful son Michael John inspired me to write this book. Michael is 18 and no longer wants me to crawl into bed with him to tell him bedtime stories. Ah, well. Time marches on.

But I well remember those nights: the charged shadowy darkness, his warmth, the way he smelled, the sound of his sweet voice, his bubbly laughter. I miss it bad.

I told Michael many many stories, but the tales I remember most vividly were based on Jack London’s masterful The Call Of The Wild. “Sled Dogs,” Michael and I called it. Buck the Dog being kidnapped. Beaten for the first time. The boat ride to the Klondike. The exuberance of pulling a sled through deep snow. The taste of salmon. The fight with the evil Spitz. And finally: becoming a wolf. The call of the wild.

I am going to work up a few of these stories and post them here. Coming soon.