Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In The Matter of TV, We Find The Defendent. . .

Well, you can't pass a verdict without hearing the story, so here goes. . .

Before I had kids, I was "never going to let my kids watch tv." (I was also "never going to have kids," but I guess that's another story.) Then, I had Addy. She was such a joy, but a clingy joy. She wanted me to hold her 24/7 and as much as I wanted to do so, I also wanted to make her baby food. From scratch. The Dr. Denmark Way. By boiling fresh fruits, veggies and dried beans then mixing them and blending them together to make her meals.

So round about 3 months, Miss Addy and I began having issues. See, I wasn't aware of Attatchment Parenting at this point in time and she was going through a period when she would not sleep unless I was holding her. I got a baby carrier, but it was one of the ones you could get at Walmart or Target that multitasked. . . It would hold your baby in front of you and kill your back all at the same time. Not to mention, with Addy in front of me, she would reach for the pretty steam floating through the air. So we bought her a few Baby Einstein videos and a play yard (the kind that is like twice as wide as a play pen, a big square with mesh sides so baby can see through) and I would set her up in her play pen with a Baby Einstein video while I made her food. It was "no big deal," was "just a little" TV and was going to help her brain to develop to boot. And thus began our descent into TV Land.

Addy didn't watch much TV before she was 2. Then I got pregnant with Evie and for me, pregnancy is always marked by fatigue, which, combined with an energetic 2 year old ultimately resulted in "just a little" more TV. I was working a full time job, so Lord only knows how much television Addy watched at daycare. She was at an in-home day care and I did not typically see her watching TV when I picked her up, I do assume that a certain amount of TV was watched while she was there. Then Evie came. I stopped working and Joey was working weird hours and Evie was such a joy, but a clingy joy. True to the nature of all babies, she was a black hole for attention and in my guilt at paying more attention to Evie than Addy, I decided to compensate by letting her watch "just a little" more TV.

I never went back to work after Evie was born. I was going to stay home with the kids, take care of the house, be supermom. Easier said than done, though. Most of my time was spent taking care of the house, cleaning, making meals, which is no doubt beneficial to children. They thrive in a clean, healthy environment. And they like food. But I bet you can guess what they did while I cleaned and cooked. See I discovered that if they were parked in front of the TV like zombies, they were not following behind me and destroying what I had just cleaned. Which made me feel more productive.

But at what cost? At the worst point in time, after Izzy was born, Addy was at preK and Evie was the Queen of the castle. All she wanted to do was watch TV. She wanted to watch what she wanted to watch when she wanted to watch it and if it wasn't on, she would throw a fit. So I would record shows for her so I would always have what she wanted. When Addy got home, she would ask for everything that was on a commercial. Any commercial. And that was my breaking point.

In my opinion, television is a tool. It can be invaluable as far as distraction or redirection goes, but it should not be inevitable. If I had known when Addy was born that there would come a day when my children's snowball consumption of TV would cause them to think they are entitled to watch whatever they want whenever they want to and that that attitude would extend to them feeling entitled to also have everything that's in any commercial they happen to view, I don't think I would have ever started them out watching TV.

Even if you restrict their television to only learning shows, there will always be commercials and you can't control what commercials the channel they are watching elects to show. And you have no way of knowing how watching television will change their attitude until its changed and its a lot harder to change their attitude back than it is to avoid influences that can negatively change their attitude in the first place.

We can't protect our kids from everything. Sometimes television provides teachable moments that we wish we hadn't exposed our kids to, but we can take advantage of and get something good out of it. We can try to avoid the bad and gravitate toward the good. For example, I know my 2 year old wouldn't know how to count to 12 in Spanish if it wasn't for Dora. But I still don't want her watching it 24/7.

So now, I am constantly hearing "I didn't get to watch tv yet today" to which I am replying, "well, you don't get to watch tv everyday and you shouldn't expect to." I am still allowing them to watch their Disney VHSs and VeggieTales VHSs at rest-time and they do watch television at other times as well, but these days I am a lot more vigilent to paying attention to the volume of television they are exposed to and their attitudes in the process. I've been having them play outside a lot more, Evie and Addy like to play together on their own in the playroom a lot and they also enjoy playing with Izzy, and Evie particularly likes to help me with whatever work I am trying to do, so there is no longer the need to park them in front of the television just so I can accomplish something.

Nowadays, its harder for me to find the energy to accomplish something in the first place than it is to convince the children not to destroy it as soon as its done. They are getting older and maturing and I would rather teach them not to make a mess these days or to clean up any messes they make than feel like my only choice is to distract them from making messes by letting them watch TV.

So the verdict is. . . that TV is a tool. It can be used for good, or it can be used to produce a bad result much as you can use a hammer to fix something or you can use it to make a hole in the wall. But how can you blame the hammer for any holes that are made with it?

My views on television have changed constantly during my life and I personally still watch a lot of television when my kids are asleep and I am crocheting/knitting, which helps me to relax and is something I enjoy, but is also something that would otherwise be very boring to me. There are a lot of shows I like and even more that I don't like. I am choosy about what I watch and what I allow my kids to watch.

I'm not yet ready to rid my house of televisions and I'm happy with my DirectTV DVR, which enables me to watch my shows when the kiddos sleep, so I don't have to ever choose between TV and my kids or worry about my kids being exposed to shows that are above their age level but appropriate for mine. Not that there would ever be a question about which I would choose -- my kids will always come first no matter what, but its nice that TV can always wait until later and I don't have to feel like I'm missing anything.

Everyone has different views on television and I encourage you to think about what your children are watching, how much television they are watching and how it effects them and their attitudes when determining what your verdict will be and what policy you're going to follow regarding television. Put your tool where it belongs and keep it where you can find it when it can be useful to you. And don't be afraid to revise your policy whenever it needs revision. Policies about television, much like discipline, must always change to keep up with our everchanging lives and continually developing children.

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