TV and kids: the great power-off switch

Here’s a topic I hope generates robust discussion among fellow readers: it involves television viewing and the young, malleable mind…

Fokids & TVr 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.

Almost.

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!)

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah
    Nov 27, 2010 @ 15:01:04

    We do love Nick Jr., which I think is the same thing as Noggin. We don’t watch anything with commercials. And the other day Anna named 9 different shapes on her placemat, and I am confident she learned most of them from watching TV. But truthfully, I wish we had never turned it on.

    Reply

    • growingmuses
      Nov 29, 2010 @ 14:43:07

      I know what you mean, Sarah. It’s a slippery slope but it’s unrealistic to think we can raise our children in a vacuum these days. I think that a number of families at the nature preschool my daughter attends plan on home schooling their kids for the same reason (in hopes of keeping them somewhat sheltered from all that’s out there) but inevitably, pop culture comes knocking.

      Reply

  2. slightlywonky
    Nov 27, 2010 @ 17:46:42

    Yeah, this is a hard one to navigate, right? So far, my kid doesn’t watch any TV, but will watch things on Youtube. I am sitting with him, so I can edit anything that he sees. I also don’t let him watch for too long, both for his own good any my sanity. The other good thing about Youtube, is that there aren’t any terrible toy/junk food ads. You may have to sit through a car ad on occasion, but that’s pretty much it. I know…I will cave in at some point and let him watch TV. I’m just holding out on that for a little while longer…

    Reply

    • growingmuses
      Nov 29, 2010 @ 14:52:00

      Wow, impressive, considering he’ll be 3 soon, that’s a real accomplishment! Besides, if you had allowed him to watch TV unattended, think of all of the terrific programs you would have missed out on

      Reply

  3. Rachel
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 01:00:03

    Sadly, my sanity is strongly linked to our television. You know my daughter hasn’t napped since she turned two!!!, and like your daughter, has energy to spare. I do let her watch TV when I need some quiet to regroup and readjust my attitude, which is, I confess, every day. Plus I’m an introvert, as you know, unlike you who doesn’t quite need the same method of recharging as I do. I am grateful for the options of today as compared with what I grew up watching honestly, and technology has allowed us to record shows that we can appreciate WITHOUT those stinkin’ commercials. Our favorites right now (for my 4 1/2 year old daughter – really they’re her favorites that we allow) are Dino Dan, Zoboomafoo (a kind of Wild Kingdom show), Veggie Tales (on DVD), Mary Poppins, and yes, my daughter is obsessed with Ariel (The Little Mermaid – I’ve broken down on a lot of Disney). Some commercials have weasled their way in though, and she wants every toy she sees. So there’s my very un-PC perspective – I like TV! 🙂 Are we still friends?

    Reply

    • growingmuses
      Nov 29, 2010 @ 14:58:23

      Rachel, I can appreciate your feelings. I witnessed it first hand when the kids were running amuck on Thanksgiving and it bought us all some much needed peace and sanity once we flipped it on. In the two weekends our kids have spent at my in-laws recently, they watched several of the shows you mentioned above, Dino Dan in particular is talked about non-stop. I wish I had seen an episode, it sounds really cute (especially considering how gaga both of my kids are about dinos…) You introduced us to BOZ, a terrific show and one of the few DVDs we let our daughter watch early on. The messages, life lessons and strong values BOZ portrays are all in sync with how we hope to raise our kids. Sadly, the disc broke recently when we were trying to watch it so now BOZ only lives on in the little stuffed green bear at the end of her bed (and in our hearts OF COURSE!)

      Reply

  4. Mari
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 13:44:33

    hey — I commented from my iPhone but the comment didn’t come thru. basically, what I said was, how will you ensure your kids are media savvy if they don’t watch TV? Granted I don’t have kids, but my boyfriend’s kids (young teens) watch television and are pretty sophisticated as to when they’re being sold to and the specious claims of the ads….

    Reply

    • growingmuses
      Nov 29, 2010 @ 15:05:14

      Sorry, Mari, I got your comment via an e-mail waiting for approval but I like to reply to all comments personally and haven’t been at a computer until now to do so. I can see your point, considering how immediate the effect of toy commercials was on my 4 year old. I’ll just have to pray she can be stronger than the American pull toward commercialism and overabundance and help steer her along the way.

      Reply

  5. Sarah
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 21:08:16

    Hmm…this may be taking it sidways a bit, but here goes…
    The mention of media and technology got me thinking about how tech savvy my kids are already (iPhone wise, at least). I guess I would prefer (oddly?) that my kids watch more Dino Dan or other age appropriate program, which airs on a commercial free network, than become engulfed in technology (iPhone, internet, etc.). I can prepare myself for the inevitable discussions about wanting things (which aren’t even comsumable things at this point – they have no idea what toys are out there, so she mostly just says things about how nice it would be to have her own dinosaur), but I don’t want to get it via a text.

    Reply

    • growingmuses
      Nov 29, 2010 @ 21:39:39

      wow, for a moment I forgot how old your kids were and almost asked if they were already texting but I guess reading and then spelling come first, huh?! I agree, a few months ago, during the dreaded (for my elder) nap house-arrest, I thought introducing her to PBS’s on-line sister, PBS Kids, would be a savvy parent move. Lo-and-behold, all it managed to do was turn my kid into a computer game junkie, albeit educational games, but still. Since our cell phones are our only phones, DH and I are very strict about letting the kids play with them but at the same time, since we don’t have a land line they use them more frequently than many kids. Technology really is the way of the world these days and to buffer our kids from it would be to stagnate their integration into the main stream but how much is too much, how much too little?

      Reply

  6. Trackback: Saturday Sidebar: How much of TV time for the kids?

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