Ah. The TV. The Acropolis of the modern American family. A source of knowledge, entertainment, way out of boredom, even maybe shopping. A baby-sitter? Well … Not in mine, and certainly not in my kid’s. I am totally against watching TV, and I make sure that it’s not a part of my toddler’s life at all. If you are a parent using the TV to entertain your children, don’t get me wrong; I would still let my daughter come to your house. I actually do my very best to put myself in your shoes, but somewhere, somehow, there is a part of me which just does not get it. Until age 2, the TV should not even be on your kid’s menu of activities. After that, it should be heavily monitored.
explanations excuses I hear from parents who let their kids watch (usually too much!) TV are:
“I don’t get anything done otherwise!”
Define “get something done.” Unless your child does not have arms or legs, they can help. They can fold clothes, dust furniture, clean up, pick up things, stir a vinaigrette … And I think that most children crave that parent attention which says: “I trust you enough to let you do the things that I do myself.” Things may get messy, but they’ll get done.
“My children have learned so much from that show.”
One of my favorites. There is nothing you cannot teach your children. Even a foreign language. You can learn it together, practice together, and create memories. Children learn through observation and repetition. Read: if you do it and do it over and over again, they’ll learn how to do it. Bonus: being a role model for your child, and learning something too.
“This is a moment we share as a family.”
When the TV is on, you watch it. There is no exchange happening between members of the family. It’s like a parallel conversation. Everybody is there, but no words cross each other. Plus, eyes are attracted to bright lights, so the TV wins over grandma.
“I grew up watching TV all the time, and I am still smart and educated.”
I believe you, but does it mean that your kids will be? What did you watch? How much time was spent on commercials at the time?
“That’s the only way they don’t fight with each other.”
Ah, siblings fights. Wait until they fight over the remote.
“The TV is a cheap form of entertainment. It’s just too expensive to all go out.”
The average monthly TV subscription is $123. That’s $1,476 a year. For that price, you can be a member of the Audubon Foundation, NOMA, and probably pretty much every children’s activity center in the city. Or you can go to Florida over a weekend. Or buy bikes and ride at City Park.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no parenting goddess. I do not pull glitter out of my ears to entertain my daughter. Instead, I work on two things: simple life skills and play time. Both of which teach patience, neatness, self-esteem, camaraderie, and dedication. As I wrote earlier, I believe that you can teach anything. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes errors. But the upfront work is worth the gain. My 19-month-old peanut can help me around the house for instance. Things get done, slowly, but they do, and she is so proud to help.
Later on, I will teach her and her sister board games. Word games, strategy games, memory games … all of which are fun to play together as a family or with friends. They create memories and foster authenticity. Spending time in a sand box, by a water table with seashells, or having an impromptu drawing contest on the sidewalk are all ways to have fun outside. Making puppets out of rolls of toilet paper with yarn and goggly eyes and setting them in a theater made of card box develops imagination. Playing sports together can mean to just grab a ball and play in the yard. I don’t think that children need complicated and extravagant activities in order to be entertained … and sometimes, they’re better off playing on their own. I’m fine with that, too.
Do I feel like I am robbing my kids of precious enlightenment? Certainly not. It’s not like they will never ever watch a movie! This is all about balancing screen time with other activities, and I think that the ratio should be closer to 1 to 10. One hour of TV for 10 hours of other non-screen activities. Of course, I watch movies, and documentaries! Of course, I have watched a TV show before! But do I make it habit? Nope. I will not be that person whose TV is reigning on a stand in the family/dining/living room. I want to have genuine conversations with my children and my husband, not scream over a screen. I do not want my children to feel like they “have to” hurry up in order to catch the last episode of such and such show. Later on, I will not encourage them to watch TV, but I will not deny them access to age-appropriate shows if they ask.
Do I sometimes feel out of place because I don’t know the latest TV drama? Oh yes, absolutely. I get the weird looks (“You haven’t seen – fill in the blank with the latest show – ?”) I can’t relate to some friends or even members of my family. To anyone asking why I am not up-to-date with the latest shows or movies, here is my response: