For two months recently, I didn’t watch any TV. Jon and I had finished one show and hadn’t found a new one we loved. I didn’t mind having a little more time to read or going to bed early, but I do read often, and we don’t go to bed late even if we watch TV. As much as I don’t want to admit it, we do enjoy watching an episode of a show together–sharing in the story and discussing the nuances of the plot and characters. We never make it very far in a show before our eyes get heavy, but it is one of the fun things we do together.
Maybe if I watched TV all day, I would be happier without it. Or maybe if I watched cable, complete with advertisements, I would notice a change in myself. But the occasional evening show doesn’t seem to intrude too much on my life (financially, time-wise, or emotionally).
That being said, I do notice troubling trends that I think come about from binge watching in particular. The high schoolers I taught, often took on personalities or attitudes of popular TV characters. Those who watched particular shows modeled the behavior of main characters in the way that they joked and treated others–almost as though they themselves were in a TV show, too. Maybe this is a trend just with the younger crowd, or maybe it is spreading more rapidly. I do remember my youth pastor saying that he stopped watching a popular show once he realized that the humor was actually a bit cruel and dehumanizing, causing a change in his words and thoughts.
So to sum up: TV can be a good form of recreation as long as it is serving to help us recreate–to create anew. When it refreshes us, brings us together, and helps us laugh or learn something, I think TV is great. But what about TV and my child?
Last week, there was another article in my newsfeed about the dangers of technology for kids. I clicked on it and was met with the typically vague statements and phrases like “exposure to technology” and “has been shown to be associated with.”
This particular article even suggested that the government ban handheld devices for children under twelve-years-old. I’m not against television, nor am I pro the banning of forms of technology. After all, my computer dictionary defines “technology” as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.” I want my kids to grow up involved in that! As long as they have moderation and responsibility, I hope they will be involved in applying science to daily life in ways that help and heal and ease.
However, we don’t have our TV on during the day, and I inwardly thought that TV shouldn’t be used to babysit children. I made two-years-old my goal for helping Liam avoid television (heck! I could even make it to three if I tried!) . If I got desperate, I could get a babysitter, but there was no place for TV in the life of my thirteen-month-old (I guess it helped that he wasn’t really interested anyway!).
I decided to ask my mom about it, thinking she would affirm my decision. She shocked me when she said, “I think a little TV would be good for him. You and your siblings watched some.” She explained that though my sister and I might not have been avid viewers as young as Liam, my brother, who came along years later, would have watched TV from a younger age by default.
Here’s the thing: I remember TV as a child. I remember watching lots of Disney movies and some cartoons. For a while, my siblings and I watched Arthur every evening while my mom finished dinner. I look back on this time fondly, not as time wasted. We spent most of our days playing outside or playing imaginatively inside. A little TV certainly didn’t hurt. I don’t have a shortened attention span now. Nor am I addicted to TV. None of us was diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, nor are we obese.
My husband, on the other hand, watched almost no TV in his early years and very little even as he grew older (mostly family movie nights). He watches more TV than I do now because of his love for sports, but overall, our viewing habits don’t seem to be related to how much or how little TV we watched as children.
In the 1979 book, Your One-Year-Old: The Fun-Loving, Fussy 12-to-14-Month-Old, the authors are (perhaps surprisingly) not against TV. Though they don’t believe many children up to eighteen months old will have the attention span for it, they write,
And last of all, though some will shudder at the thought, a little television now and then provides variety and excitement and introduces the young viewer to sighs and sounds which might not otherwise be available. (emphasis mine)
But knowing all this, I had still decided to avoid TV. It was one of those “This makes me a better mother things.” I was coping without TV! (Oh, the parenting pride!).
Until the dreaded dinner hour.
Liam has switched to one nap a day, and by dinner time, he’s tired but not quite ready for bed. I’ve tried reconfiguring our days, but putting him to bed before 8:30pm or 9pm means lots more nightly wakings. Plus, Jon usually gets home late, so we eat dinner around 7:15pm on a good night (and later on a bad one). It’s a long day for Liam and I, and while I love our days, the rules change by about 6pm. Nothing will entertain him or console him, except occasionally being held or going outside. Sometimes I wonder if he even knows what he wants. I don’t like letting him cry, but the past week, there have been too many evening tears. Once the crying starts, I start to feel at the end of my rope.
Monday evening, he started to cry when I wouldn’t hold him. I was working at the stove and chopping things and only needed a few minutes to finish. He refused the Ergo and his Funpod and even playing on the deck. So instead of sitting him on the floor where he will gradually escalate his crying into sobbing, I thought, “Why not try some Sesame Street?”
For twenty-eight peace-filled minutes, Liam ate veggie sticks and happily watched Sesame Street on the iPad. He talked and pointed occasionally, clearly excited by the show and wanting me to join in. When Jon came home, I had finished making dinner and had even cleaned up most of the kitchen, and Liam was thrilled to talk to his dad about what he was watching.
But the most amazing change was how content Liam was for the rest of the evening. He had never worked himself up into a full-on cry, so he was much more relaxed. And I wasn’t as exhausted (because even if you let a baby cry and finish up what you’re doing, it is emotionally draining). We had one of the most fun evenings we’ve had in a while.
The next night, he watched less TV, but it was still enough for me to finish dinner and the dishes.
I don’t think it will be a routine, and I’m still finding ways to simplify the dinner hour. But the last two days the evening hours, which I had started to dread so fiercely, have completely changed in our home. I feel like I’ve been given one more tool to help me be a better mom. After all, isn’t that the goal of technology:science + applied to practical life = better living.
So to conclude: this dinner brought to you by Sesame Street and my mom’s advice (which I am trying to apply to all of parenting):
“Avoid the parenting fads. Those things come and go. You just need balance and moderation.”
I know this can be controversial, but what are your thoughts on–or experiences with–TV and kids?