Monday, October 29, 2012

Yes, My Kids Watch Television!

As we start the week with the first two days of school closed due to our not-so friendly, Sandy, it brings me to a topic that many of us lie about—or, feel guilty about, in the least. We read and hear things about limiting your child’s screen time, and part of us hopes our children don’t really like television so it won’t be a battle in our house. We stress about it every day. “Let’s see, you watched a show before you went to school, so you only get one more half hour show, or you will exceed your one-hour limit for the day.” We feel guilty if we are using the television as a babysitter. The Crap No One Tells You is that most of you WILL use the television as a babysitter and will eventually find comfort with that decision.

I admit it. I have, and will continue to use the television as a babysitter. But, here is why I don’t feel bad about it. Number one, there are times--mostly when I am preparing dinner--that I need the kids in a place I can see them, but they won’t be requesting my attention. If that means one hour a day that I am NOT engaged with them, I think they’re going to be fine. Not to mention, as a stay at home parent, I NEED that time.

Number two, about 90 percent of the screen entertainment my children are exposed to is educational programming or learning games on the LeapPad Explorers. There are so many great options now that I can get OnDemand whenever I want, or record them for later use, so they don’t get bored watching the same shows over and over. Though watching the same show over and over and over seems to be something they actually prefer (makes me want to claw my eyes out at times, but I remind myself of the alternative … “AAAAHHHH … Mommmmm … Weber, stop it. Mom, Capri took my balloon. AAAAHHHH … Mom, Weber pushed the baby.”)

And, there is something about hearing them shout out the answers to the television character that makes me feel like it’s a good thing. I remember before the twins were talking much, I would watch some of the programs and wonder if Dora’s question to “What was your favorite part?” is ever answered by anyone. Then, one day they started answering. They started finding the super letters with Super Why. They started patting their laps to get Rocket to go faster in “Little Einsteins.”

So, why do we feel so guilty when our kids are watching television or playing games on the computer? And, why are we so ashamed to admit it? Instead of telling the other parent, “My kid hardly watches television.” Why don’t we fess up and say, “Yea, my kid loves television, and there are days he watches three hours of it?” You know you’ve had that conversation, and probably told a little white lie about how much television your child watches.

The experts say kids need to learn from experiencing and seeing things in the real world. They say kids are too lazy these days and not getting enough exercise as a result of watching too much television or playing video games. I completely agree!

Most mornings of our lives are spent away from our house—seeing things in the real world. Museums, botanical gardens, parks, zoos, farms, nature walks, library and story time, music classes, swimming pool, beach, organized sports (not to mention pre-school four mornings a week)—just a few ways we offer our kids discovery, pretend playing, exercise, and arts and crafts. When we are at home, there are many hours spent outside riding bikes, kicking the ball around the yard, swinging and playing on the play set, painting and playing in a new fort (whatever box was delivered from Overstock that week), and going for adventure walks around the lake (the “Duck Walk” as my kids call it).

Then there are days like today, when they have already watched 2 hours of television. But, we also played “Go Fish,” indoor balloon volleyball, read a couple books, practiced writing the letter “r” and the number “2,” completed a couple workbook activities, played a shark board game, and had our own music/dance class. This was all before quiet time.

I do believe kids can get exposed to a lot of positive things by watching television. And, their imagination play is huge as a result of it. Every once in a while they will impart some knowledge on me out of nowhere. I’ll ask them where they learned that. Several times the answer was from a show. They may also learn something that they will ask me more about, which leads to some discussions on topics we would have never broached.

We are very lucky in this generation that we CAN expose our kids to so many positive and educational experiences through the use of media. When I was a kid, it was “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” They were on at a set time of the day and if you missed it, that was it. We didn’t have a VCR until maybe I was in Junior High, and even then the access to videos was limited—and, most certainly not educational. I have to imagine my mom with five kids age 8 and under, would have loved the amenities I have in television today. She would have been responsible with it, as I believe I am, but it may have saved her sanity some days and who knows, maybe I would have been a more worldly as a result?  

Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics report “Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years” say children under two should especially avoid television because it provides only entertainment—no educational value, and could result in short-term language delays. He suggests that promoting independent play is time better spent while you are making dinner. I respect and appreciate this. I really, truly do. I do strongly believe in independent play and its benefits. However, no disrespect to Dr. Brown, I imagine he was not at home all day with his baby, or on the days he was, was probably not the one being whined for every time he left the room. Sometimes, that extra voice coming from the television is all my baby needs to get his focus off the fact that I am not in the room with him. Then, once he strays his eyes from the television, he will play independently.

My twins were more interested in television at a younger age and I probably forced it on them more because they were twins and I was losing my mind. But, I attribute their learning sign language to the “Baby Einstein” video. Obviously, I was teaching them, too, but I strongly feel it reinforced what they were learning from me. While my third born at 10-months-old now, is not very interested in television, he does seem to like shows with a lot of music. I will often peek in and catch him dancing this hunched over sideways old man jive. It’s very cute. Maybe he’s not learning anything and just having fun with the music, but I guess I don’t mind. At this age, he has become extremely clingy, and mama needs a break.

I used to admire parents who never let their children watch any television. Now, I fear for their mental wellness. Please don’t take this article the wrong way. I’m not advocating television take over for teachers or parents. But, I’m also not going to deliver you with the arrogance of some experts on this topic, who make it seem like it’s so easy to avoid television. Just like pretty much EVERYTHING in life, moderation is the key. I feel comfortable with my decision to allow my children to watch television, because I am confident that my significant efforts to incorporate educational and active play in their routine every day are beyond adequate. But, experts and other parents will continue to make you feel like less of a parent because of it. I guess this is just the warning to you. You may be like me and come to the conclusion that you are doing the right thing and have the right balance in your child’s life, but still feel silently guilty whenever the topic arises.

As for now, as the rain continues to tap on my windows and the gusts of wind pick up, and while I still have electricity and my kids are in quiet time, I write and I daydream. I dream of the day when my baby will sit through his first movie with the twins, while my husband and I snuggle with them on the couch on a day just like this. There, I said it!

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