A couple of weeks ago Jen over at Sprite's Keeper did a post about babies and children and their TV watching. She outlined the AAP guidelines and then gave us a rundown of her little Sprite's exposure to the supposedly evil machine. She then invited us to unburden our souls of our honest opinions of this surprisingly controversial topic and to disclose just how much TV our kids watch in her comments sections. And lots of people did just that. I tried to do it myself, but Typepad decided to hate me and wouldn't take what amounted to a mini-post. Even once I edited it down to about 6 words. So here is a somewhat expanded version of the comment I tried to post:
1. I did not have a TV until I was 10. When I was a baby my parents decided that they didn't want me to watch it so they got rid of theirs and waited a decade until my mom brought one home that she'd found on the curb (another topic entirely). So for my young formative years, the only TV shows I watched were things on PBS at my grandparents house, and random things like "Mannequin" and "Ghostbusters" at friend's houses and sleepovers. How this maybe helped me: I taught myself to read at 4, I love it, and I'm fast at it. I kicked the booty of the vocabulary portions of both the SAT and ACT. Having little else to do as a TV-less only child, besides read, I used to have one heck of an imagination. I never really developed a love for TV after we got one so I never watched it much, and didn't really catch onto advertising and, as a result, being ridiculously poor in high school didn't bother me much. How this did not help me: I pretty much missed the entire 80's. I FAILED at playing TV freeze tag in elementary school. I never got the desensitization that most kids get which I think strongly contributes to the fact that I can't stand suspense of any kind. It didn't help me at all with math, that is just not one of my skills. Hmmm. I'd better insert a disclaimer here since I am an auditor, that I do not stink at ALL math, just things like calculus. And trig. And geometry. Ok, anything beyond algebra really. Fortunately auditing is more about attention to detail than about math. Anyway.
2. I let my girls watch PBS and DVDs, and they mostly watch DVDs, either selections from our frighteningly extensive collection or the 10-14 I weekly check out of the library. Elizabeth has her own library card, and I use it in addition to mine and sometimes David's. They can both work the DVD player unassisted. Including turning it on, inserting a DVD, turning on the television, getting it on the right channel, starting whatever show they are watching, skipping ahead to the next chapter if they want to, and adjusting the volume. Since one is 3 and one is 19 months, you can imagine how much TV they must watch to accomplish this. Am I shamed by or proud of this? Well, I'm pleased with their mechanical skill and that's about it. I'm in the club that thinks that parenting or the lack thereof has more of an effect on children than a TV does.
3. I have a Toyota Corolla and no good way to have a DVD player in it, or they would probably watch a show while I drove. I can think of more than one situation where we would have been driving in a much safer fashion if they were happily distracted by Linny, Tuck and Ming-Ming too instead of freaking out because they DWOPPED THE BINOCUWARS and I could not reach them.
4. The reason they only watch PBS on the actual TV has everything to do with the fact that we don't have cable or satellite and nothing to do with me being picky. That being said, I do vet the shows they watch but not because I'm particularly worried about the evils of too much screen time. Both girls have demonstrated that they take after their parents unreasonable dislike of uncomfortable moments and suspense. We do not watch Disney movies (except for the DVDs of sing-along songs) because there is a little more drama then they are able to handle. A lot of children are able to better separate reality from fantasy. Mine were upset when they saw a portion of The Little Mermaid at a local pizza joint because "Awiel was CWYING!" So we mostly watch very mild shows. The Wiggles, Backyardigans, Wonder Pets, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Miffy and Friends, Barney, that sort of thing. Elizabeth still needs her hand held if things get a little tense though. Say if the Moose of the Mist or a Giant Clam is on the loose. Or if Nemo the hamster is WOST.
5. If television is supposed to completely destroy the vocabulary of a child, heaven help us if mine didn't watch. Elizabeth only started watching regularly when she was 18 months or so, but due to having a big sister Lilli has been watching with interest since birth. Since Elizabeth never stops talking, and Lilli has been speaking in sentences for a couple of months now, I think we're doing okay. I guess if I didn't let them watch they would already be winning prizes in elocution? If that's the case, it's only fair that we save those awards for the older children.
6. Elizabeth would not believe me about the whole shapes and colors thing. But she believed Barney. I always used to say that I would never have Barney in my house, but I am happily eating my words. I have never known another child who, when younger than two didn't just know the colors, but also knew which primary colors make the other colors. Barney has also taught my children to cover their mouths when they sneeze, that brushing your teeth is awesome, how to share, about imagination, that we love our friends no matter how different from us they are, about more things than I can really count.
7. My child care provider is my 72 year old father. He does very well with the girls, plays imagination games with them, reads to them a ton, tells them stories, takes them outside to play. But he's also getting older and when he needs a break, and it isn't nap time, the TV is there for him. Even if I wasn't a fan of the television I would never begrudge him that. If the TV is on the girls may not be right in front of it, but they will be where they can hear it and that helps him keep track of them.
8. So how much do my girls really watch? I don't actually know. I can vouch for a definite hour and a half on Sunday mornings, I assume they watch that much on Saturday mornings too, but since that's my morning to sleep in I'm out of the loop. We are usually out and about or playing together on the weekends, so they might get some more viewing time in on weekend evenings, all depending, or maybe not. I have no idea how much TV they watch during the day Monday through Friday. Sometimes I come home and the TV is on, sometimes its off. We usually put on a DVD during dinner, which we eat as a family at the table. Because we have learned that they eat more. God bless mindless TV watching based eating. It's bad for adults, but great for my toddlers. Sometimes they watch something before bed, sometimes they don't. Because sometimes we're playing or out and sometimes we're not. All I'm saying is that I don't regulate the amount. And they don't appear to be suffering. Ironically I still don't watch much TV other than what I watch with the girls, and that seems to be the only lingering effect of not having a television as a child.
So that's what I wanted to say in response to Jen's post. If your kids watch more TV than mine, I support you! And if they don't, or don't watch any, or are watching the evil SpongeBob (just my opinion, he's awfully mean to Patrick) or Mexican Wrestling (the violence! the suspense!), well, I also support you. Because we parents have to stick together and cut out this constant thing where we all try to one up each other while claiming superior parenting skills and the most awesome kids. We aren't capable of being objective about our perfect children, but there is more than one way to raise one.
Besides, I'm sure some of the ways we will accidentally embarrass our children when they are teenagers will do a lot more permanent damage than the amount of television they watched or didn't watch as toddlers and little kids. Right?
You know I'm right...