ControverSundays: TV

Perpetua from the blog “Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs” has suggested starting a blog ‘thing’ (still loosely defined) discussing controversial topics in parenting and beyond. Here are the introductory posts to get your caught up:

ControverSundays: Introduction

ControverSundays: Circumcision

ControverSundays: Roundup

ControverSundays: Four Votes Spells Unanimous

ControverSundays: Sunday Sunday Sunday

So, while I don’t enjoy the way controversy sometimes results in name calling, judgment and guilt– I do think there is value in having a vigorous but civil debate about it all. Hence my participation in this ‘loosely defined blog thing.’ This week’s topic is TV. So here is my take:

A couple months ago I read “Under Pressure; Rescuing Childhood from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting” by Carl Honore. He also wrote “In Praise of Slow” which I have also read. I enjoyed them both and they have informed my opinion on the matter of TV and kids. Here is the basics of his book(s): He argues that kids today are over-managed, over-stimulated and over-scheduled. We, as parents, feel so much pressure to help our kids grow up smarter, faster, stronger that we may not being doing the best thing for them.

One of the more interesting discussions in his “Under Pressure” book was about those ‘Baby Enstein’ DVD’s and other attempts to ‘feed’ a babies brain with stimulation. He concluded that putting your kid in front of a DVD is not going to make them smarter. While babies need stimulation, the best kind is that which is interactive and between caregiver and child, like talking to baby, making faces and playing peek-a-boo. A lot of recently in the news studies have suggested the same thing; babies and young kids learn best by interacting with their environment and watching TV, being a passive activity, isn’t the most effective way to learn.

After reading his book I am less inclined to fall for the marketing for ‘stuff’ to make my kid smarter. I am more likely to talk to her, play with her and take her for a walk outside then I am to use mobiles, flashcards or DVD’s to try and stimulate her little mind.

I guess that would put me on the little-to-no TV side of the argument. That being said, I don’t yet have a toddler or young kid asking to watch TV. I haven’t yet had to say no. She still has no idea that TV even exists.

Since she was 6 months old we have lived in a house where the TV is in the basement. We don’t take her to the basement because it is not baby-proof, hence shes doesn’t watch TV. But, before 6 months we lived in an apartment where the only living space we had was where the TV lived. So I didn’t follow that rule of ‘tv shouldn’t be on while baby under 2 is in the room.’ As she got older the TV was on less, but in the first three months- since I was spending 95% of my time trying nurse the child/pump-post-nursing- I needed the TV for distraction and comfort. I just did.

So while I am not a big fan of kids (especially babies) watching lots of TV, I don’t judge anyone who does sit their kid in front of a video to try and get a moment of peace. The lady who runs the Dayhome our daughter will soon be going to told me that she sometimes puts a video on for the kids while she is making lunch. This doesn’t bother me, because I couldn’t keep 6 kids occupied and make lunch at the same time either. But she also has a big backyard they spend most of the spring/summer/fall playing in. It balances out.

Truth be told, when our baby was about 4 months old and driving me nuts with the need for 24/7 attention and stimulation, I did put one of those ‘Baby Einstein’ DVD’s on for her a couple times. It failed. She hated it. Also, I don’t know about the toddler ones, but the baby ones are kinda weird, in my opinion. It is pretty much classical music, a blank white background and toys being paraded across the screen. I don’t get it.

While I don’t buy that any TV show or DVD is the ultimate path to a genius baby- I do think there is educational value in some shows. When kids watch them at the right age and for a limited amount of time in the day. I know I learned a lot from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers when I was a kid. And there do seem to be some good shows now that encourage interaction- like singing along or getting up and dancing. I won’t hesitate to let her watch a bit of these when she is older and more interested in such things.

Also, I should note, TV is not the be-all and end-all to Honore’s argument. His thesis is built on the combination of  many factors from a lack of unstructured play for toddlers to homework overload for kids and teens. In my opinion, a kid may watch a bit too much TV, but maybe their parents advocate for more unstructured play at their preschool and it balances out. While Honore does fall into the “your damaging your kid” trap I don’t like, I still feel his book is worth reading as a parent because he is not claiming your are a bad parent if you do ‘x.’ He is looking at a much broader picture of the combination of many parenting and schooling choices and their impact on most kids and therefore our society as a whole, rather then passing judgment on any one parent. To me that makes it different. But I digress.

To wrap it up, TV (and the internet) will come with limits in our house, but they won’t be banned. My husband and I will try and make informed decisions about the appropriate shows and appropriate amount of time spent watching them for our daughter and any other kids we have. But it will be flexible and balanced. We will be looking at the big picture of her experiences at home, at the dayhome/school and elsewhere to try to avoid her being over-scheduled, over-managed and over-stimulated.


10 responses to “ControverSundays: TV

  1. Keely February 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    I think over-scheduling is one of the hardest things for kids. While I certainly think they benefit from extra-curricular activities, I also think they need downtime. Even if that downtime happens to be zoning out in front of the tv. Everything in moderation, etc. etc.

    (I had the tv on a lot when I was bf’ing as well. I think I saw every single episode of What Not To Wear…twice. My son would occasionally stare at the screen. So if he turns out to be really well dressed, I guess we’ll know how early it can influence them, huh?)

    • amoment2think February 14, 2010 at 5:33 pm

      I totally agree- extra-curricular activities are great… so long as kids aren’t being shuffled from one to the other 7 days a week from the second they finish school to the minute they go to bed (and sometimes before school to). Our hope/plan is to have 2-3 evenings a week where activities happen and the rest of the time we want the whole family around the table for dinner and some family time after. And I want a family game night. Who knows if this is realistic, but we will try.

  2. Pingback: ControverSunday: TV. « Accidents will happen.

  3. Fearless Formula Feeder February 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    This is something I struggle with. We are HUGE tv people. Both my husband and I are in the entertainment industry (well, I used to be…now I’m more in the academic/news world so I don’t have that as an excuse), but regardless, the TV is on a lot as “background noise”.

    Until about a month ago, the whole issue was irrelevant, b/c my son had NO interest in the tube. We’d be at friends’ houses with Baby Einstein and he’d want nothing to do with it, except that he was obsessed with remote controls, so he’d want to change the channel and screw up my friends’ DVR settings. Fun times.

    But then…. things changed. My babysitter started letting him watch some PBS and he now loves having the TV on as background too….wonder where he gets it? And he is in love with the Your Baby Can Read dvd’s… we let him watch it even though I am not a believer in that kind of crap for babies – let them learn to read in their own good time, through actual interest in books, etc – but he saw it at another kid’s house and he absolutely loves it. Don’t ask me why. It’s a strange thing, that video….;(

    Anyway, I feel bad sometimes, b/c I do feel like the TV is on more than I want it to be, but that is the way we live in our family – it is always PBS at least and as I said he doesn’t really “watch” it – the kid is a whirling dirvish and we are hardly home anyway, since we live in SoCal and play outside for the majority of the day.

    I definitely subscribe to your theory of parenting – I think just talking to your child, playing with them, enjoying the world together, these are the things that make happy, inquisitive kids. The world is enough of a pressure cooker – let ’em be a kid for awhile, right? I think a lot of parents try to live through their kids, or see them as an extension of their personal success, and this creates a stressful and driven atmosphere. But hey – if that is what works for them, that’s cool too. I’m just not into it.

  4. amoment2think February 15, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I hear you, it is hard. As I said, one of the main ways we have been able to avoid TV with our daughter is it is in a location in our house we rarely use. And the fact she can’t talk and ask us to watch something. But as I say, it all balances out- maybe your kid watches more then you would like- but if you are aware of it and try and strike the balance in other ways- I am sure it will be fine.

    I know my husband and I often talk about how we wished we watched less TV. We always have good intentions to turn it off and read, or talk, or play a board game. But then a good show comes on and we find ourselves watching anyway. So I don’t think it is just a challenge for kids. 🙂

    • Accidents February 17, 2010 at 10:04 am

      A student of mine once did a research project about how almost everyone feels like they watch too much TV or would like to watch less–even people who watch very little TV. And the student likened it to other forms of consumption (we feel like we eat too much, or drink too much) and found that TV was thought of generally more like addictions (smoking, drugs) than simply over-indulgence (food). Interesting stuff, no?

      • amoment2think February 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm

        Yes, interesting… does that mean we all watch too much TV or we just think we do? I mean some of us (and by some I mean me) doooo eat too much. I guess what I am asking is does this study give me an excuse to continue watching too much TV because I think i watch more then I do??

  5. Perpetua February 16, 2010 at 10:36 am

    We’re in the same spot you used to be in–we’re in an apartment, so everything baby-related happens in the living room, where there is also a tv. His crib is in our room, and his play stuff and changing stuff is in the main room; he doesn’t have a bedroom of his own.

    I think the question of “interaction” is key. If the TV were a substitute parent, we’d be in trouble, I think, but as it is, E and I are in constant communication.

    Ooh, and over-scheduling! I’m so interested in this. My “I know nothing about toddlers” opinion of the new Sesame Street (scheduled blocks of features instead of random stuff and skits) is that it’s a bad idea, but it’s supposed to be good for kids, i.e. getting them ready for scheduled play of preschool. I don’t agree with this at all.

  6. Amber February 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Our TV died around 15 months ago, and we chose not to replace it. We still have plenty of screens in our house, with 3 computers between my husband and me, and so my kids who are 5 and 18 months do get screen time. But since our TV went kaput it is much more intentional than it used to be. It is pretty easy to stick a toddler or preschooler in front of the TV when you want some peace – I did it it, too, but it can be a slippery slope. It was for me.

    The funny thing I found was that ditching the TV actually made my life easier. I wouldn’t have expected that, but we had lots of TV battles, and getting rid of those actually simplified things considerably. I think that on some days my kid spent more time asking for TV / crying because the show was over / generally being unruly following TV than she did watching it. Limiting screen time has pretty much eliminated that.

    I am not judging others. If our TV hadn’t broken on its own we would still have it, and I would still be saying, “There’s no way I could live without it.” But I’m glad it died, and I’m glad I got the chance to see that yes, I could, and it might even be better.

    • amoment2think February 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm

      I have actually had quite a few people lately tell me that they have totally ditched their TV’s- some with kids and some without- and all of them have told me how liberating it has been for them. And how much more time they have spent doing things that make them happy and really communicating with their family. I think it is a great option and one I think about every once in a while. And then my favourite show comes on….
      Thanks for bringing this up.

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