When I was in high school, I had a fairly lucrative babysitting business. As the babysitter, I was able to observe the parenting practices of the various families I worked for. I particularly noticed the different attitudes with regard to television.
In some families, TV was very highly regulated. These families had policies like, "Susie is only allowed to watch one video per day." (And, inevitably, the video had already been watched before I came to babysit.) I didn't like how TV became this forbidden fruit, because we all know the backlash that comes when somebody has been completely denied something.
In other families, the kids watched TV almost constantly. Years of admonitions from teachers and parents had taught me that constant TV-viewing was probably also bad.
The families I truly admired were the ones where TV was sort of a non-issue. The attitude was like, look, there are many possible leisure activities you can engage in, and TV is just one of them. If you wanted to watch TV, you could watch TV. If you wanted to do one of a million other fun activities, you could do those too. It wasn't "TV vs. No TV." It was "TV vs. Toys vs. Outdoor Play vs. Computer vs. Art vs. ..."
I wanted to raise a child with this whole "TV is part of a balanced life of many activities" attitude. I think this is the attitude I have myself. I don't watch TV constantly, but at the end of a long day when you're mentally and physically exhausted, sometimes nothing works better for unwinding than TV.
Initially I didn't regard Nathan's TV viewing as a big problem. I worked for the first 20 months of his life, so he wasn't home watching TV much anyway. When he did watch TV, his attention span was so short that he didn't watch for long enough to raise any concern.
From ages approximately 2 to 3, Nathan and I did so many activities that he was seldom in front of the TV. We were always at the gym or a friend's house or an enrichment class or a museum. And he was still napping 2-3 hours a day, so there wasn't much time left over for TV.
But then from ages 3 to 4, the daily TV-viewing time slowly crept up. A number of factors contributed to his rise in TV-watching. First off, he quit taking a nap, and TV was something he could do to get in a quiet rest time. And since there were suddenly so many hours in the day to fill, some of which he was frazzled and exhausted because he was no longer taking a nap, he began to watch TV more and more. We weren't going on as many full-day trips to museums and play areas as we used to because we had to work around his school schedule, but that left many afternoons at home where we were both tired and the most logical activity was television. And also, Nathan's attention span for TV grew longer as he got older, so his TV-viewing hours were no longer self-regulated by his short attention span.
And in the worst possible, mom-guilt-inducing development, the child began to eat all three meals a day in front of the TV. I know I know I know I know. I feel horrible even writing it. But, hear me out. First of all, he has always been a very poor eater. Plopping him in front of the TV caused him to mindlessly stuff his face, so in effect I was kind of using an alarming trend in child obesity to my advantage. (And as I type this, I realize that at some point when the boy's genetics inevitably catch up to him, he will be left with some poor eating habits.)
Another reason for plopping him in front of the TV during meals was for my own sanity. My husband doesn't get home in time for dinner on weeknights, which means that it's just the kid and me for every meal. As a person who attempts to regulate her own food intake, nothing is more frustrating than having to spend your rare eating opportunities barking at a kid to Sit down! Eat another bite! Use a napkin!
And so the TV became something to do during meals, during quiet times, during the tired times, during the times when I needed to clean or blog or whatever ... and pretty soon, OMG THIS KID WATCHES TOO MUCH TV!
I could see the problems in his behavior. He was acting crazy and lashing out, and I think part of the reason was pent-up energy from sitting in front of the TV. It was time to make some changes.
But how to go about it? For one thing, as soon as I started regulating TV, would I become one of those parents who made television a forbidden fruit that my child would later consume in excess out of rebellion? Well, probably not, since it's not like my new "one hour a day" TV policy was particularly strict.
But also, I am very bad at being consistent with policies like this. It seems easy enough. But there's always some situation where I don't enforce the policy, because like for example I wanted to clean my house and the easiest thing would be to plop my kid in front of the TV for three hours.
On the flip side, there are days when he doesn't watch any TV, because we're really busy. Doesn't it seem okay if he watches two hours of TV on Thursday because he didn't watch any on Wednesday?
Also, as I was discussing with Farrah the other day, sometimes kids need TV to unwind. Just like there are times when the TV is the only thing my brain can tolerate, there are times when I think Nathan needs a little mental break in front of the TV too. The reality is, we are still doing a lot of exhausting, stimulating, outside-the-home activities. Nathan goes to preschool six hours a week and to his little program at the high school three hours a week. He probably spends another six hours a week running around the gym daycare with the other kids. Add in miscellaneous activities like playdates, the library, visits to the park/indoor playground, swimming, random errands, and trips to museums, and he's getting a lot of mental and physical activity. He needs time to relax and unwind at home. And yes, I could probably force him to play quietly or read books to him or do some kind of organized activity, but sometimes I want a break, too.
Plus there's the issue with today's generation of kids where it's not just TV, it's all these "screen time" activities: computers, video games, the iPad, and smartphones. It's getting to the point where I feel like my kid can't entertain himself without some electronic device, and that upsets me. (But then this begs the question, can I be entertained without some electronic device? How quick am I to bust out Angry Birds whenever I'm in a line or waiting room situation?)
So anyway, just another opportunity for me to feel like a horrific failure.
What do you guys have to say about TV?