Thursday, September 1, 2011

Boob Tube

Okay, following is the requisite mommy-blog post on TV watching. I wasn't really planning on it, but a discussion thread on the topic on my local moms board has me all soapboxy about it. So here goes.

First, here's my take on TV and kids. In the very beginning, before H was old enough to be curious about or interested in TV, I was all for sticking with the AAP's guideline of no TV before age two. I felt sort of smug and self-righteous about it. I was above letting H near anything so mind-numbing as Elmo and his cronies. No thanks.

However, I did turn the TV on for him for one designated purpose: to keep him still while I cut his nails. Nothing else did the trick, and frankly it felt better to let him watch a minute of TV than feel like I was torturing him with the clippers. And initially it was no big deal; I turned it on, he watched for a minute, I clipped, then I turned it off.

Then sometime after his first birthday, he started showing active interest in what he was seeing. He made faces and gestures in response to the characters and what they were saying and doing. He seemed to be getting something out of it, something I recognized and remembered feeling when I myself watched that show: the delight of seeing a lovable character come to life.

So my feelings toward and tolerance of TV have evolved a bit, and H is now allowed to watch a few minutes of Sesame Street here and there. Usually I sit right there with him and comment on the show with him, or I might (horrors) go nearby and take advantage of his stationary position on the couch by washing the morning's dishes or tapping out a quick email. Then we turn it off and we go on to the next thing.

Well. According to some of the sanctimommies on this message board, my son may be illiterate, or have ADHD or have no imagination as a result of the poison I'm feeding him, because I'm taking him away from activities he could be engaged in every waking moment, like reading or playing, or perhaps writing the Great American Novel while composing a symphony.

Sorry, but I don't buy this. If you choose not to let your child watch any TV for any reason -- because the AAP says not to, because you just feel it in your gut, whatever -- I totally respect that. But I reject the notion that the limited amount of watching H is doing is harmful (as does his pediatrician), when we spend the vast majority of our time reading, playing, singing, going to the library, to music class, to play dates, to art class, and to countless other places, adding up to a level of activity and mental stimulation I am certain I never had as a child.

I believe the strict AAP guideline exists to guard against the irresponsible use of TV by irresponsible parents, just like children's equipment and clothing arrive to you with bizarre labels telling you to avoid things like fire when using them. And I just think it's unimaginative to suggest that someone can develop an interest only in TV or reading/activities of a higher intellectual order, mutually exclusively. Clearly they've never seen how I like to unwind: by watching Real Housewives of NYC while reading The New Yorker.

I think overall the thing I reject most is this chorus of women weighing in with holier-than-thou opinions, waving around evidence and data on every minute parenting detail. It makes my mother and her peers smile wryly, and I can understand why. Yes, understanding evolves and we learn things over time and respond to them, improving the way we go about life, including parenting. I mean, obviously I would choose the medical system of today over that of 1970. But I think we run the risk of overintellectualizing parenting too. I'm sure there are studies showing that TV is harmful. But who did they test? Where and when? How much did they watch? What content? Did they figure out how to account for parental involvement, for how many other things the child engaged in all day long? What else influenced the way they learned to see the world?

Sometimes, common sense is just as important to our decision-making as the latest study. As a very good (very smart, TV-watching) friend said, "Please. I watched an hour every day and managed to get my dumb ass into Penn Law."

Enough said.

[Stepping down from my soapbox.]


anofferingoflove said...

very valid soapbox. people should try judging less.

we indulge in a few minutes of elmo here and there too, especially in evening hours when the whole house seems to be melting down in unison.

Turia said...

True true. I think it's too simplistic to reduce it to TV or no TV. Surely how much is watched, what is watched, is the kid with a parent or not, etc. has some impact?

The judgment among mothers is something I really just don't get at all. We are all muddling along, trying to do our best. Why put someone else down to make yourself feel better? Are we back in high school?


Celia said...

I read The Other Parent, and The Plug In Drug. It is very interesting to read the studies. I highly recommend The Plug In Drug to anyone wondering about tv's effect, and it will answer all the question you are asking in your post. Peter is allowed almost no tv, after being allowed two hours a day for a while. After all, we have a ten hour day, he naps for an hour and Sesame Street is a sacred cow. What could be nicer or more normal than Peter watching Big Bird while I clipped coupons or did the dishes? However I HATED how he stared at the tv so mindlessly and it just did not sit right with me though his former ped. said it was fine. I did some research and we turned that sucker off. I only allow him to watch maybe five minutes or ten if he has hurt himself and I need him to stay still for an ice pack. So maybe once a month he'll see a few minutes.

I do talk occasionally about how much richer and calmer and happier our lives are without tv, but only because I would like that for everyone. But I never judge, I mean come on parenting is hard enough without us making each other feel like crap. Everyone does their best and does what seems right to them. No one REALLY knows what they are doing, only what works for them.

I did not even know the AAP said not to allow your child to watch tv till I mentioned our change to our current ped, and they looked at me like a was a... I don't know it was kind of
we'll see how long THAT lasts.

I ave actually wondered if I am doing Peter a disservice by NOT allowing tv, in that all his classmates will be programmed one way and he will be another. I am hoping this makes him an independent thinker. We do not miss it a bit, though I suppose the acid test will be in March when our second baby is born. I'll be very interested to read any following comments.

Roccie said...

Oh, what a laugh. I know exactly what you mean. I was certain no child of mine would watch tv before the age of 2. I think we could have made it, but once Toddlerina started getting up at 5am several wks in a row... that all changed. Maybe I could have made it if I wasnt a working mom or jacked up on progesterone, but I dont regret one hour of Sesame Street a day.

One delightful, blissful hour. Snoring with a baby laying on you watching tv is darn close to heaven I imagine.

I bust out the Sprout channel for anything associated with clipping nails too.

She is highly verbal too. I dont credit the tv, but probably the fact she was a very late crawler and walker. She concentrated on what she could get done at the time.

You know message boards are full of freaks, right? Stay away from those people or send me a link so I can laugh by your side.

Frenchie said...

I call them the Mommy Mafia: They judge on every thing you do, every thing you don't do, and make you feel like a crap parent no matter what.

The thing about ADHD is bogus. Tv can not cause ADHD. ADHD is a problem with the frontal cortex of the brain, and is caused by genetics (and they are thinking it can also be caused by gestational exposure to alcohol/drugs--at least there may be a link). Otherwise, you can't "give" a kid ADHD, even if you are a crap parent like me.

And yes, my kids both watch way too much tv.

You sound like an amazing parent, I wish I had half the energy to cart my two around to all those activities and arrange their day without the use of any tv.

But again, unlike you, I'm a crap parent, and that Super Why! sure is fun to watch. And, coincidentally, has gotten my son to start recognizing his letters much more recently. So....

EVERYTHING IN MODERATION! Everybody use your common sense and do what works for your own situation, and we'll all be ok. No need to judge.... You're a fantastic mom.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty much the same way as you. At first, I was NEVER going to let Birdie watch any tv. Then at like 6 months or so, we got the Baby Signing Time dvds, and it seemed like how could it hurt? She watched it and learned signs and was able to communicate her needs to us. She LOVES seeing the kids on the dvd do the signs. She loves the songs, the animals, everything. I do not feel bad one bit about letting her watch Signing Time.

Then, we came across Yo Gabba Gabba. A friend told me how much her kid loved it, so I DVRed a few episodes. Birdie totally loves it. I don't feel AS good about it as I do Signing Time, but I don't think it is harmful. I like that they talk about things like eating healthy food and don't bite your friends and so on. It it kooky and weird and right up my alley. My husband loves it because the musical guests are often bands he likes. He was sold after seeing Weezer on one show doing a song called "All My Friends are Insects".

So for now, she only watches those two shows, usually no more than 20 minutes a day. I don't think I am ruining her brain. I do want to limit what she watches to educational or science or nature shows. The thing that I hate about a lot of kids tv is all of the commercial bombardment and trying to get kids hooked on buying Dora yogurt and Spongebob shoes (or whatever it is that they are selling). Thankfully, YGG is on Nick Jr, which is commercial free, and they show one episode of Signing Time a week on our local PBS station. I will never put a TV in her bedroom though. I think that giving children unlimited access to TV is not acceptable.

By the way, thank you for your comment on my last post. It really made me feel better!

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