Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What Will I Do Without TV?

We have been experimenting with less TV. It has been working out pretty well, once you discount the wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth. “I WANT TO WAAAAATCH!” was Miss Pink’s mantra for a couple of days. My thoughts were, Well, I wish you could watch too, because that means you would be quiet, but that is not what responsible parenting is about.

A little background: I never wanted my kids to watch a lot of TV. I grew up without a TV, and I had a lot of fun as a child. I was outside every possible minute when the weather permitted, playing on the swingset, sandbox, or making up one of my innumerable imaginary games in which I starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder or Nancy Drew. I rode my bike and—get this—played with neighbor kids! I know! Neighbor kids actually existed and were available to play, instead of staying inside with their eyes glued to a screen.

Also, childhood obesity was not a problem. (Not to mention we walked to school uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot. Ahem.)

Old fogeyhood aside, I wanted to give my children a childhood like that. I wanted—still want—to give them the gift of being able to make their own fun instead of expecting others to entertain them. As I heard once, it’s only fun if you make it yourself. Anything else is just entertainment.

Besides, I’m a language arts teacher! I can’t accept that hours in front of a screen are good for anyone, much less a child with a developing brain. I’ve never forgotten the study that showed that your brain waves are more passive when watching television than when sleeping. That’s a problem, I think: I don’t want my kids to be passive consumers of information and propaganda; I want them to be critical thinkers who question what they view and read.

Before you start thinking that I’m going to say we should all have a TV-smashing party, let me say that I am not planning to get rid of our TV. For better or worse, television, movies, and the Internet are an integral part of our world, and our children are going to encounter them at some point. I don’t want to shelter my kids from any knowledge of what’s out there, just provide age-appropriate boundaries for them and teach them to be savvy consumers so they can eventually make their own entertainment choices.

Besides, my husband would never give up the TV. (And I’d go into What Not to Wear withdrawals.) So the TV stays.

So how had I fallen from my ideals? Well, Miss Pink had talked me into letting her watch “kid shows” (cartoons) while she ate breakfast. One show turned into two…which sometimes turned into three…while I cleaned house or dozed on the couch. I almost always got it together and turned the idiot box off by 10, and the middle of the day was taken up by lunch and errands and playing together, but by Mr. Blue’s nap time, she was asking to watch again, and I really needed a break…so on it went for a few more shows. Probably less than the national average, but more than I want. But I didn’t do anything about it since the baby was born, because let’s face it, I wanted the time for myself, and come on, I was recovering from postpartum depression, so didn't I DESERVE a break so I didn't relapse? (Yeah, I know it was a cop-out.) If I took TV away from her, I would be punishing myself.

So when I recently took away TV for a day as a consequence for bad behavior, her reaction was shocking. It really was. She bawled and squalled like I’d (almost) never seen her do, off and on for several hours. I think she actually said, "What will I DO without my TV?" (Remember, she's FOUR. The little stinker.) And I realized that she was acting like an addict who needed a fix. That’s when I knew that something had to change.

So the new rules are: no TV or movies until the baby’s afternoon nap. Then she can watch TV or a short video. So far I have been good about enforcing this, and despite a few whines when I can’t drop everything and play with her, she is doing better at entertaining herself. And on Saturday we were letting her watch cartoons, when she came in our bedroom and said, “I watched enough. I turned the TV off.”

I was so proud. Of her, and of me.


  1. i never had a tv growing up either, but it had nothing to do with religious nonsense it was because my parents knew that if they said, 'ok well watch one show a day' one show would turn into two etc. they wanted me to have the childhood you described as well. and i want that for the W-man... after tonights finales of office and grey's, and sunday's 400th episode of the simpsons... then the tv viewing will decrease. even if i have to put it in the garage for a couple of weeks to break myself of the habit.

    that's cool that she is already recognizing when enough is enough.

  2. Let me tell you, as much as I agree with you, I couldn't have survived the few weeks after A was born without the TV to babysit for me. What did mothers of newborns with older children DO before TV?!