Screening Entertainment

Our agent is still trying to set up the Parents@Play TV show and action figures. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone else seems to have one (the Kardashians? Really?). Over the next few months we’ll devote occasional columns to toys and games with TV and/or movie tie-ins. This week, we take a look at one character who’s made the transition from small screen to big, and a family of characters who seem perfectly content—for the time being—with being on TV. Keep your eye out for dinosaurs, minions, superheroes, and more.

zhu stunt petAmazing Zhus (Cepia)
After a brief hiatus, Cepia has brought back the much loved Zhu Zhu pets, and they’re cuter, fuzzier, and smarter than ever. Cepia also expanded the Zhu Zhu family by introducing the pets’ cousins, the Amazing Zhus, who will dazzle with you with jaw-dropping feats of magic. There are two types of Amazing Zhus: the hat-wearing magicians—The Great Zhu and Madame Zhu—and the stunt pets Kardini, Dynamo, Picadilly, and Abra. There’s definitely a family resemblance: the Amazing Zhus and the Zhu Zhus are all adorable, they make cute sounds, the electronics and robotics are amazing, and they’ll keep your child (and you) entertained for hours. The main difference is that the Amazing Zhus are hard plastic instead of plush. Both magicians come with a card trick and magic wand and retail for about $30. The stunt pets are sold separately or in multiples, each for about $13. Batteries are included. http://www.cepia.com/

amazing zhu disappearing box2Amazing Zhus Magic Tricks (Cepia)
With the Amazing Zhus Magic Tricks, your child becomes the magician—and those stunt pets start earning their keep. The pets can jump off a high dive into a bucket of water 20 zhu-zhu sized stories below (that’s about three feet for humans), perform a nail-biting, death-defying tightrope walk through a ring of fire, dance and spin on a circus ball, and vanish (and rematerialize) in a magical, disappearing box. The effects are clever and are easy enough for small hands to control. Plus, your preschooler will love the confidence and applause that comes from mystifying audiences. Each trick is sold separately and prices range from about $8 to $18. http://www.cepia.com/

spongebuddySpongeBuddy Squarepants (Nickelodeon)
SpongeBob’s worldwide appeal—like the Kardashains’—still baffles us.  But there’s one area where SpongeBob beats the Squarepants off of the Kardashians: he has his own movie, and a whole line of toys to go with hit. The SpongeBuddy, like the “real” SpongeBob, is squishy to the touch and will get you smiling (and sometimes groaning) no matter how hard you try to avoid it. His eyes and mouth move, he makes all sorts of sound effects, and he tells a variety of G-rated jokes. He’s also wonderfully interactive. If you turn him upside down, he’ll complain, and if you ignore him for more than a few minutes, he’ll make a few sarcastic comments and then go to sleep—complete with snoring. He’s available wherever you buy your toys for about $30.

spongebob krabby patty makerSpongeBob Talking Krabby Patty Maker (Nickelodeon)
Unlike SpongeBuddy, this SpongeBob is made of hard plastic. He’s also not as talkative: most of what he does say is directed at the “tasty, juicy, scrumptious, warm, steamy” Krabby Patties. But he’s still a lot of fun to play with. Besides a wisecracking sense of humor, he comes with 12 accessories, including a fry pan, grill that makes realistic sizzling sounds), a spatula, fries, and ketchup. And, of course, there are the stackable patty pieces which let budding chefs assemble their own Krabby Patties—with or without cheese.  All you need is some salt and a couple of AA batteries (included). Retails for about $25 everywhere.

Pay No Attention to That Program Behind the Screen

Dear Mr. Dad: My baby just turned one and I went to pick him up a little early from his daycare to celebrate. When I got there, the kids were crawling around but the TV was on and tuned to some kind of reality show. I asked the sitter why, and she said “So what?” and told me that the TV is often on in the background and that it’s no big deal. My gut says she’s wrong. But before I fire her, I need something to back me up. What’s so bad about TV?

A: Honestly, do you really an excuse to fire a sitter who shouldn’t be caring for kids? But since you asked—and since you’re not the only parent out there who’s not sure whether it’s okay for babies to watch TV—here goes.
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Reclaim TV Time by Making It Safe for the Whole Family

What ever happened to just hanging out and listening to music or reading? We live in a world where popular music has to be marked with an explicit tag, and you have to show ID for the latest beats as if it were beer or cigarettes. The subtle lyrics of romance have been replaced with crass declarations. Your kid’s radio needs parental control settings.

They took away comic books by making them even darker and more sinister than they used to be. The heroes are more troubled and morally ambiguous in the name of character complexity. We call them “graphic novels” so that baby boomer adults can feel justified in buying them. And they are, as advertised, more graphic—and more disturbing.

Now, they’re coming for your TV. Actually, they’ve already got it. You may have purchased that big-screen TV for wholesome, family entertainment, but show by show, network by network, you’re losing the ability to turn on your television without it undermining the values you’re trying to instill in your kids. Violence and sexual situations make even prime-time, “family” TV shows earn their MA rating (for mature audiences only). Aside from TV Land and the Cartoon Network, our options as parents are getting narrower by the day.

The time has come to reclaim your family TV for your family. Here are a few suggestions:
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Understanding the Best Options in Home Entertainment

It used to be you had just a few simple channels on the T.V. Then cable came along and we suddenly had hundreds. Satellite TV also gave us more choices. Services began to expand their options (now reaching well over a hundred channels). Now you have all those online options.

There are times when you’re spending more time trying to find something to watch than watching the show or film. It’s very frustrating and becomes doubly so when you’re trying to find something for the kids.
Dump on the fact that the price of cable, broadband, and the tech we use to view this media continues to splinter in every which direction, and it can be easy to get a little confused.

My mission, with this post, is to help you navigate the options and hopefully give you enough insight to find the entertainment option that gives you the best bang for your buck.
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Watch Out, Baby!

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I both work and we have our 2-year old daughter in a lovely home daycare. We really like the provider—she makes organic food for all the kids she takes care of, and does a lot of fun activities with them. But we recently found out that she also has the kids in front of the TV or playing video games for several hours every day. It’s so hard to find good-quality, affordable childcare these days, plus our baby really loves her caregiver. How bad is it for toddlers to watch a little TV?

A: Unfortunately, the whole issue of babies and TV is far from being black and white. The official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that kids under two should have as close to zero time in front of screens as possible, and kids older than two should limit screen entertainment to an hour or two per day (not including time on computers that are being used for homework, of course). The point is that children should spend a lot more of their time interacting with other people than with electronics.

In an ideal world—where most of us don’t happen to live—that’s definitely the right approach. But we all have situations that call for a little rule bending, and an hour of TV while you’re taking a shower or making a phone call probably won’t cause any long-term damage. And neither will the parental magic trick most of us perform when trying to tame loud or restless kids: pulling out the tablet or smartphone and putting it gently into those little hands.
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Sperm Stories, Part II

In Part I of Sperm Stories, we talked about how temperature—both cold and hot—affects sperm production, swimming speed, and quality. In this article, we’ll take a look at several recent studies explore non-temperature-related factors. Turn off the tube. Men who watch 20 hours or more of TV have half the sperm count of men who […]