Monday, April 7, 2008

TV or Not TV?

Amy and I both write for the parenting website Babble, which recently ran a feature about a mother who planted her child in front of the television for up to 6 hours per day so the mother could work from home. It was clearly designed to be controversial, and it was; there were more than 50 comments last time I checked. I was pretty appalled myself; frankly, it's easy to be appalled at something so glaringly extreme. But when I stopped to think about my own TV-watching policy, I had to pause. I no longer have one.

Before I had kids, I was pretty adamant about my no-TV beliefs. Jonah got hooked on Sesame Street videos when he turned 1, and Hilary probably knew more Spanish than English at 18 months thanks to hours of Dora. I never hid my feelings from Amy, and to her credit, she never laughed in my smug child-free face.

When Declan was born, it was pretty easy to stay principled. But when Ronan was born, my principles got lax. Frankly, I was tired. Declan was 18 months old, the supposed magical age when it becomes okay for kids to watch some TV (I'm not sure where I read that, but I hold that fact dear to my heart). I started letting Declan watch short Baby Genius videos that seemed innocuous enough: kids at the San Diego Zoo with classical music playing in the background; nursery rhymes sung by kids.

Thanks to his older brother, Ronan started watching TV at a younger age than Declan. I'm not sure when exactly he started paying attention, but now, when he comes into our room each morning he says, "ah-wah," which translates into, "Please, Mother, may I watch some TV?"

So now I've got two boys aged 2 and 3 1/2 who would watch TV all night if I let them. I can't help but wonder if their fascination with television is due to the restrictions I place on it. You know the theory: If you don't let your kids eat any candy at home, they'll binge any time they get the chance. Now I wonder if I had a more laid back approach to the television, if they would as well. But then I look at Erika and Hilary, who both grew up under Amy's decidedly laid back approach to TV (much like her decidedly laid back approach to most things), and they couldn't be more different: Hilary is obsessed with television, Erika is not, though of course she watches her fair share. But she doesn't seem to crave it like Hilary, or like Declan and Ronan.

Of course, none of this really helps me with my current dilemma: how much TV should I let them watch? For the most part, they only watch two shows, both of which I record from PBS: Between the Lions, a Sesame Street-style show that teaches reading and letters through puppets and songs; and Zoboomafoo, a live-action show about two brothers, a puppet lemur, and lots of real animals who live at Animal Junction. They're educational, but let's face it: they're still TV.

I've come up with what I think is a good TV rule--TV only on weekends and special occasions--good because it's easily modified, since any day can be a special occasion if I make it so. They generally only watch TV at night, which means they usually watch a movie on Friday and Saturday nights and then a 30 minute show on Sunday night.

But when I read articles like the one on Babble and hear recommendations that kids watch no more than 2 hours of TV per day, I wonder if I'm being too harsh or extreme. Is 30 minutes of TV per day really so much?

How much TV do your kids watch? Am I obsessing too much over this?


Manjari said...

My kids are 1.5, and they watch one hour (Sesame Street) a day. They usually don't watch any on weekends, because that is when we are able to do more fun things as a family. Sometimes I wonder if it's ok that such little kids are used to watching tv every day. On the other hand, I am alone with them for about 13 hours a day, so one hour of tv helps me stay sane.

Keri said...

I know what you mean; I'm beginning to realize that letting the kids watch tv is more about a break for me than for them... Of course, I'm not with my kids for 13 hours per day, so I don't really have any excuse. But you know what? I love to watch tv. I remember reading an interview with Julianne Moore about her kids and she said, "I love to watch The Sopranos, so why shouldn't my daughter be allowed to watch Hannah Montana?" Sure, there are more stimulating things 3 1/2- and 2-year-old boys could do, but as long as they're not watching tv to the exclusion of all else, I think I'm doing okay.

Or at least that's what I tell myself.