As I begin this column, I’m listening to a bedtime story.
Or trying to anyhow . . . first I had to wade through salutations, then thank you to a dozen, or two, people, and then a lengthy commercial about memory foam mattresses. Admittedly, I have the attention span of a gnat, so I know how a kid would feel waiting for the story to begin.
Yes, these are bedtime stories via podcasts for children. Is this lazy parenting or what? I’m all for using this as an addition to story reading – I think it builds imagination so it’s much better than watching videos or television – but I recently read an article (Oct. 3) in The New York Times that led me to believe parents were using this as an additional baby sitter in order to not have to read bedtime stories to their kids.
I don’t have a whole lot of fond memories of my childhood but I avidly remember being read “Winnie the Pooh,” and I still have those books from preschool and my young elementary school days. Best. Books. Ever. Some pretty great memories – snuggled in bed, imagining my friend Pooh bear and his cohorts having adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.
The Times article, “The New Bedtime Story is a Podcast,” shows an adorable and enthusiastic photo of one of the youngsters doing the voice for a leading character in a podcast story for kids called “The Ghost of Jessica Majors.” The article initially came across as if I should absolutely know what’s going on in the podcast world. I don’t.
But as I began to search for information, I realized how out of touch I was with the podcast, and I’m not the only one. First, according to the article, fewer than one-fourth of Americans listened to a podcast in the past month. I thought it would be higher than that. Second, the podcast market is looking to expand and the children’s lit market was nearly nonexistent in the podcast world until recently. So, again, many of us aren’t up-to-date when it comes to knowledge in this audio area.
I look at this, though, and I think, geez, another gimmick to allow couch potato parents to pay even less attention to their children. They’re going to set up a smartphone, iPad or laptop in front of the child and push the button – instant story time.
“Call me when the story is over.”
So there is the solitary child sitting in bed, a stuffed toy and an electronic device for company. I sadly know a lot of parents, if they knew about this podcast thingy, would gladly partake. I obviously won’t be enlightening them.
The big names are involved, though, so the cat will be out soon . . . NPR has “Wow in the World,” iTunes has dozens upon dozens of unique stories and podcast “giant” Panoply now has “Pinna,” a child’s podcast channel designed for 4- through 12-year-olds. And it’s supposedly commercial free.
But you have to pay a small fee for the podcasts. Audio makers are pushing the podcast entertainment in an attempt to lure children away from TV watching. It’s probably not going to happen. First, it’s not free, TV is. And second, for the parents who do pay for this, my cynical self sees them using it as just another tool to baby-sit their children and ease an already hectic life.
What is wrong with reading a book? Good old-fashioned looking at the pictures? When did pre-reading children become too sophisticated to make up their own stories as they flip the pages and look at the illustrations?
I see this as useful entertainment when packaged with TV and lots of reading . . . not an additional baby sitter. I do see its value and it is fun to listen to, but how many parents abuse the influx of children’s podcasts remains to be seen.
Susan Winlow is a freelance writer. She is the former features editor for the Daily Republic. You can find her on her bookish Facebook page at www.facebook.com/youve.booked.