“We don’t own a television.” That’s what she said -“We don’t own a television” -like it was no big deal. To me, the concept is so foreign she could have said, “my husband is an astronaut” or “we have no indoor plumbing.” I assume she felt the need to make such an announcement because her little boy was approaching a comatose state —staring at the TV in the swim school office with his pupils dilated, mouth agape, a string of drool dangling just above his t-shirt. The other kids (mine included) looked up occasionally at Dora the Explorer, but then went on to whatever else they were doing –eating snacks and killing time before swim lessons began.
I am very much aware that arguing the Pro-TV angle doesn’t exactly set me up as a candidate for Mother of the Year. It’s only slightly more acceptable than defending hormone-injected chicken or the benefits of sautéing it in Teflon. And so I put this article off, afraid that upon reading it all you “good” mothers will judge me. The Editor-in-Chief of The Next Family continues to bug me about this submission as well, because of course, the Anti-TV mom (who is obviously not wasting time watching reality shows on Bravo) got hers in weeks ago.
Should I ever get past my initial shock and confusion upon meeting a parent of a non TV-household, I would ask, “How did you do it?” Because television watching for our child became a necessity when he was a baby. When I was pregnant, my husband and I did not wax poetic about the television hours our boy might some day log. But within few weeks of his birth, I found myself alone – husband away on business, no family, no nanny -with a newborn. Had I not propped up our son in front of a Baby Einstein video (I know, I know, the horror), I wouldn’t have been able to pump, or wash the dishes, or feed the dog, or take a shower –ever. He chilled to the occasional slow-paced video scored to Mozart, and I got stuff done.
When he turned two, he found Sesame Street. Those were sweet TV days in our house. He would climb into our bed at 7am, and together we would watch, all cuddled up and cozy. I marveled at my little man clapping and singing to the very same show that had rocked my own small world some 30 years prior. He cared so much then about the Number of the Day -the only person I ever met who preferred the Count over Cookie Monster, or Elmo.
Since then, we’ve watched Clifford the Big Red Dog, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Max and Ruby, Jack’s Big Music Show, Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, and, as much as it freaked me out at first, Yo Gabba Gabba. We’ve had picnics on the living room carpet, enjoying lunch along with Curious George.
As with all things, moderation is the key. He knows he can’t watch too much TV, just like he knows he can’t have another cookie. But he’s still a kid, and we’re his parents, and it’s our job to take the bag of cookies away. Accordingly, we monitor and limit his time in front of the television. He doesn’t want to watch that much TV anyway. He’d rather shoot some hoops in the backyard with his dad or make an art project with his mom. Maybe it’s just who he is and we got lucky, but I think it’s also because we don’t make such a big deal out of it.
Usually he’ll watch TV after preschool, where he has spent a full day at Montessori reading, painting, dancing, writing, sharing, sculpting, catching, throwing, collecting, compromising, singing, running, falling, laughing, tumbling, growing, missing, gluing, crying, building, and feeling –lots of feeling. TV is his down time. He needs some.
Lately, when our television is on it seems to play only sports–any of it: baseball, football, basketball, X-Games, Winter Olympics. My boy’s a sports nut. We have a blast, watching together as a family. I’ll admit; it’s a little freaky that he knows which network will air a specific NCAA basketball game. And I’m not thrilled that he can man the Tivo remote like a pro, rewinding to show me a slamdunk I’ve missed. But he is actively and passionately watching, not staring off idly into the blue glow of the television set. If he does, we’ll turn it off. Simple as that.
Before my son was born I vowed I’d never use TV as a babysitter. But, I never dreamed I’d adopt a ‘no media’ policy for my child. Not until we enrolled at Waldorf. Founded in 1919, the school’s principles are based on the philosophies and teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Tantamount to their program is a ‘no media’ guideline especially for infants through grade five. No media includes: TV, DVD, films, computers, internet, cell phones, games, iPods, etc! I wasn’t fully aware of this aspect when we began the parent/toddler class this past fall. Truthfully, I was drawn to the school for its bucolic setting, hippy-dippy teachers in floppy hats, sweet little songs and the knitting, woodworking and hand-woven lunch boxes. I also love that Waldorf kids are encouraged to dance with fairies in forests whenever possible.
Waldorf strives to preserve the dream-like state of childhood as long as possible. Protecting children from television is one way they claim to achieve this goal. But when our teacher began talking about no media in the home, I felt my wall of resistance go up. My husband and I work in the entertainment business. We’ve been content creators for over a decade. That we should suddenly turn off the television in our home seemed ludicrous.
Needing to know more, I read the research behind Waldorf’s findings on TV exposure, which include: TV promotes gross consumerism, can impact neurological development and stunt imagination, as well as prevent children from forming their own mental pictures and imagery. There’s also the risks of: Visual & hearing damage, obesity, diabetes, body image issues (anorexia/bulimia), violence desensitization, vulgar behavior and promoting a culture of fear and disrespect. Yikes. Their arguments also raise the valid questions: Who is providing the commercial content our children view? And do we trust them? Okay, okay! I was starting to get it.
We decided to try the no media route for our twenty-month old. We went cold turkey on Sesame Street in the mornings and cut out the educational videos we’d used some evenings to entertain our son while we tried to prepare dinner. Removing his TV viewing was not so easy but after a week he didn’t even ask for it anymore. But, then I developed the nagging feeling I was somehow depriving him of some inalienable rights of childhood. Many of my memories as a young one are foggy, but I do recall with fondness most of the TV shows I watched — Zoom, Sesame Street, H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc. And later, Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, Friday night’s double- header of Dallas and Dynasty, and Luke and Laura on General Hospital. Growing up in a fairly rural Southern town, TV was our main form of entertainment. I remember my friends and I so excited with the advent of MTV… and then our complete outrage when we learned we’d never see it! Living in the ‘Bible belt’ meant those in charge could pull the plug on the fledgling network and ban it from our county. It wasn’t until college that I saw my first music video. Ironic, I moved to Hollywood and majored in Film & Television? Not really considering the back-story.
So now I’m the adult pulling the strings and I worry my kid will grow to resent me for depriving him of the conduits to his own zeitgeist. It’s not as if I can hide TV and computers from him forever. He already knows what they are and screens are found virtually everywhere today – gas station pumps, grocery store check out lines, etc. Plus, its not like we removed the flat screen from our home like some Waldorf families have, I’m sure. One day soon my son is likely to consider us the blatant hypocrites we are the moment he realizes mommy and daddy watch TV after he’s gone to bed.
For now, while I can still control most everything he does, I will attempt to protect him from what I’ve come to believe are the negative effects television has on a person his size. Does this mean I’ll never let him watch again? I’m only human. Just this morning I was guilty of using TV as a babysitter. Yes, it’s true. The Thomas the Train video saved my ass. As I hurried to finish a work email, fifteen minutes began to stretch into twenty… then thirty… I began feeling incredibly guilty. As I finally pressed ‘send’ on the computer my toddler grabbed the remote and announced to my surprise, “No more Thomas”. Off went the TV and so did we… outside into our urban forest in search of fairies.
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Originally published on The Seattle Lesbian
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