Here’s a topic I hope generates robust discussion among fellow readers: it involves television viewing and the young, malleable mind…
For Four-and-a-half years, DH and I have gone to great lengths limiting our children’s television exposure. Up until the age of two, our first-born had scarcely watched any TV at all. It’ isn’t that hard for us really because–aside from the month of March–we hardly watch TV ourselves. We don’t subscribe to cable, never have time for the news (did I mention we have two young kids?) and have no idea what’s happening on Must-See-TV (truth-be-told, even when we are clued in, we still don’t get it. What’s WITH 30 Rock?!). In fact, annually, we talk about getting rid of the TV altogether. At home, our preschooler’s TV viewing is limited to three options: the local PBS station, the New Hampshire PBS station and a handful of educational videos (OK, so the Sound of Music may not fall into this category but hey, if your kid memorizes the entire soundtrack, doesn’t that count 4AM Feeding?). But when we visit relatives, it’s a whole different line-up.
My mother- and father-in-law just bought a very fancy new TV. The thing is capable of all sorts of nifty things, including turning regular shows and movies into a surreal HD experience that leaves me unnerved every time. And though my father in-law holds multiple advanced degrees from Ivy-league institutions, I think the thing might be smarter than he. It’s kind of like HAL.
This year, as we spent the morning preparing a variety of Thanksgiving staples, brining the turkey and mixing up the stuffing, we let the kids watch Sprout. Since this is PBS’s offering to the venerated halls of cable TV, I assumed it an innocuous choice. Ah, but to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. No sooner did I take a break from slicing shiitake and sit down to enjoy a speechless moment with my kids than I got peppered with requests for no fewer than FOUR items our daughter now wants from Santa (what, pray-tell, is a Tag Reader? Yet another human stand in? [this isn't to say we won't cave and buy one...I'm just saying...])!
Since PBS is publicly funded, they severely lack the resources to keep up with other cable network megaliths and have to rely on the benevolence of corporate sponsors like Crayola and Fisher Price. There were so many commercials interspersed between short programming bursts and get-up-off-the-couch warm up activities that I practically developed A.D.D. myself (hey, can someone pass the popcorn?) Within 30 minutes, I was so discouraged by the channel, I blew a circuit, shut the TV off and stormed back into the kitchen for a glass of wine.
Fast forward 20 minutes and the kids were on their 5th lap of the circuit that runs from living room, through kitchen, past dinning room, down hall and around again. This was interspersed with loud squeals, breaks to turn light switches on and off and occasional stumbles. I was on my third glass of wine.
Later that afternoon, as we tucked in to the fruits of our morning labors and looked forward to a long visit with family around the Thanksgiving feast,
we were DH was dragged from the table on multiple occasions to referee toy sharing battles, too-quiet-upstairs-visits and the general mayhem that ensues when kids finish a 4-hour-meal 20 minutes in.
Needless to say, this did not make for a happy DH and I was the first to hear about it. My response: “how about Noggin? We are at Nai Nai’s/Grandma’s after all.” More daggers. But the result was totally silent, statue-like children. Santa could have walked through the door bearing 20 Tag Readers, four Glow Station Day and Nights and two mice in a purple cage (more on this one later) and neither of them would have blinked an eye. Added plus: no commercials; it almost made me a convert.
But then I saw it, the eerie, glassed-over look in my kids’ eyes, their unresponsive demeanor when we called to them from down the hall, the slow oozing of cerebral matter out of their ears; we all looked on in amazement. So, as another year draws nigh and we still have some major holidays ahead, I’m sticking firm to my stance, TV too young is just a bad idea!
Thoughts from the peanut gallery? (oh, and please pass the popcorn!)