This month over at PAIL bloggers the monthly call-out for posts was about one’s thoughts on TV/screen time for your children. If you’d like to submit a post you have until midnight tonight (8/22). If you can’t make the deadline, check back each month for our monthly theme-post call-out.
Like most parenting issues, the topic of television can be a highly charged topic. My views are my views, and I frankly don’t give a hoot if you let your child watch TV 24-7, that’s your deal.
My feelings around TV stemmed from a time in my life where I had a TV in my room in college and COULD NOT fall asleep without the TV on all night long. I knew that reasearch showed doing this actually led to poor sleep quality, but I just had to have it on. This continued for years into my post-graduate education. Finally one day I just stopped. I decided that TV was evil and I was not going to watch any of it, at any time, anymore.
My sleep improved, my running improved, I started yoga for 45 minutes a day and I spent time, actual time, doing things instead of watching them on TV. When Jacob and I married the TV debate began. He was in favor of having TV and I was not. But eventually the “if we don’t have TV how will we watch the Redsox games?” won me over. Yes, I am a baseball junkie. It wasn’t that I thought TV was all that bad, in moderation, I just knew myself well enough to know that I could easily slip back into my old patterns of constantly having the TV on. Though we both agreed no TV in the bedrooms.
A year-and-a-half ago we bought a house and when we moved we made the financial decision to not have a TV subscription. None, not one channel. It saved us like $50 a month and we could spend that money on having date nights and such. Now, one caveat, we did have Netflix which we used to watch a movie or an old TV episode here and there. Or for when I walked on the treadmill while preggo and the only thing that kept me going (bec of all the back pain) was watching old episodes of ‘Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman‘ (shut up! It’s an awesome show and hellooo Sully!) But for the most part the TV was on in our house only about 3-5 hours a week.
Now we have moved to a new house, a house that my DH’s new church pays for including a TV subscription. At first I thought, ‘oh, no biggie, we probably won’t watch it much.‘ Like a crack addict back on the street after a 30 day stint at Betty Ford, we have the TV on pretty much nonstop. Now, I am breastfeeding, which means more often than not there is a small child attached to me for long periods of time. Being able to turn the TV on for when she’s non-stop nursing is pretty helpful. And for the first few weeks post partum when I was a hormonal mess, turning on a comedy show to make me laugh was a HUGE stress relief.
But now that we’ve settled a bit my old worries are coming back. If we have the TV on constantly now, what is Stella going to grow up learning? I’ve already noticed I tend to ‘zombie-out’ while watching TV and holding her. Meaning I’m not paying as much attention to her as I could be. We are modeling behavior for her and while she may not pick up on it now, she will very quickly.
Now lets flash back to ‘the toddler’. We had a foster child who was almost 4 years old when we got him. Now, granted, a foster child comes with some special needs and behavioral issues, but essentially kids are kids. So we continued with our ‘no-TV’ policy and the toddler never really asked to watch TV. However, there were times when I was preggo, had worked all day while having the foster infant with me at work, dropped off and picked up the toddler from preschool, and gotten home and just needed a break.
So we started to let the toddler watch one episode of ‘Veggie Tales‘ or a sign-language learning video a day. We had the DVDs so there were no commercials that would try to market crap to my kid and this series of DVDs has a very moderate underlying Christian theme so we really liked that. And not to mention, they’re hilarious. Often I would watch with the toddler and get some rest while also engaging him about what he was watching. I would sometimes even close my eyes as we snuggled on the couch however that ended when the toddler caught on and started yelling “YOUR MISSING IT, YOUR MISSING IT!” Awesome.
So where do I stand? I guess my biggest issue with TV is it lets you ‘check out‘. You don’t need to watch your child, engage with them, or do anything. Now I understand that sometimes you need that. We all need a break and TV is an easy way to accomplish that. But children are quite capable of entertaining themselves without TV. We would often tell the toddler that it was time for him to play with his toys or books while we made dinner or such and he did. And he had a wonderful time making up games and other imaginary stories. There is a parenting philosophy out there that you MUST be 100% engaging with your child at ALL times while they play and go about their day.
I think that is total crap. First of all if my parents had been all up in my face as a kid I would have been a very annoyed little kid. How else can you have adventures outside, climb trees, play(fight) with your siblings, make mud pies, and all that other great stuff if you constantly have some over-achieving parent in your face trying to make you do ‘enrichment‘ activities? I’m all for guided-play and enrichment but a kid also just needs to have time to be a kid and use their own imagination.
I am also greatly disturbed by the subtle and also blatant body images/gender roles and sexuality and other messages that are rampant in even shows for 4-5 year olds. I’m not going to post the research here, but you go ahead and google-up this issue if you want to learn more. There are also messages of consumerism, distorted body images, violence, etc. It goes on. And then the commercials! Oy, even more exposure to sexual and violent images.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think kids need to be taught about sexuality and life and death mortality issues. But TV shouldn’t be the one teaching it to my kids. And that’s again the issue, parents checking out and not engaging with their child about the images they are seeing.
I feel the same about computer games/hand-held games. They market them now as “educational” for as young as 2 years old. I don’t care how educational these toys are, you cannot tell me they are more educational than a child actually interacting with their environment and other people! ‘But how will little Johnny learn to count’ without their V-techy-whatever thing you ask? I don’t know, the way we all did before all this crap was available for kids?
Ultimately I think my philosophy will come down to one of moderation. Will my kid’s brain rot from watching a little TV? No. Do I plan to let them watch a lot? No. If they complain I will open up our door and say “behold, the great outdoors, go do something and try not to break any bones while doing it!” And they will roll their eyes and tell me I am the WORST parent ever, and I will then know that I have done my job as a parent for that day.