“This girl is on firerrrrrrr,” the neighbors surely heard me rejoice as I patted myself on the back for being the greatest stay-at-home mom ever. I had just completed a fairly complicated dinner recipe that satisfied all the nutritional requirements of my family, complete with dessert. It would all be served warm and on time enabling me to waltz out the door to book club that evening with make-up on my face and guilt off of my conscience. In addition, I had actually finished said book club’s book. No one was going to give me a medal but I still imagined my Parenting Magazine “How does she do it,” interview as I washed the dishes. “That’s right,” I would say, smuggling my smug behind a humble smile, “and the children entertained themselves without an oddle of technology or television.” That’s when I spotted the little red footprints. I followed them backwards from the bathroom to the basement. It seemed that while I was whiling away the hours cooking and feeling awesome about myself and my mother skills, my neglected quiet children were “foot painting.”
My husband came in as I was scrubbing the floor. As I tallied my tasks and lamented my frustration he said what I had already been thinking. “Why didn’t you just put the television on?”
Like many moms in my demographic I had big plans during my pregnancy. I was older, wiser, had saved some money and a masters degree. I was going to be the best mom ever. I would do what the American Academy of Pediatrics told me to do:
Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers (e.g., child care providers) for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged.
Then, I actually became a parent. I can feel the shame wash over me as I write this but I suppose that confession is good for the soul. I approached children’s television with trepidation, like drug experimentation or a Clinique free gift-I knew I could get addicted but the promise of relief was too much. At first, I sat in between their bouncy seats and zoned out to some Sesame Street in reminiscent revelry (Thank you Sprout for running episodes from 1975). Then, I got up to pee, put in laundry, wash dishes and brush my teeth, all completed in the length of half an episode, and I was hooked. I know it was wrong Academy, but it felt so right.
Then, it became a habit, for all of us. They loved Elmo and I loved drinking my coffee in peace. Four or five years later, I began to think that maybe, the television stays on far after my cup is empty. So I reluctantly did a little research. According to Kids Health:
- Children who consistently spend more than 4 hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight.
- Kids who view violent acts are more likely to show aggressive behavior but also fear that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them.
- TV characters often depict risky behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, and also reinforce gender-role and racial stereotypes.
My kids fat and crazy? Never. This information, I decided, was for those other parents who use the television as a babysitter while they go off and do more self indulgent things. I was just trying to hold a household together, right? I avoiding tallying it up, but I had to face the facts. Some days we make the 4 hour cut off, but there are days when we are over 4. Way over. While we are limited to Sprout and Disney Junior, I worried that I was setting up a habit that would lead to some harder habits to live with down the road.
So, I started cutting it back. I just didn’t turn it on. For the most part, the kids did not even notice. The benefit of twins is that they always have someone to play with. It also means they always have someone to fight with as well, and for moments of crazy, like right between afterschool and dinner, a little Higgley Town Heroes is just what we need to restore the peace.
Here’s the thing. I know that leaving a child in front of a television for hours on end is not a good idea, even if does allow you to take a shower for the first time in days. However, I believe that it is not the inclusion of television that can hurt a child’s development; it is the absence of parental involvement that does the damage. Honestly, I believe that there is A LOT of really great children’s programming out there that can be utilized as a teaching tool in your home. Justification or fact? Well, I’m not sure, but let’s face it; I did not teach my son about the Sphinx, The Backyardigans did. While I no longer sit between bouncy seats, I know what they are watching and it’s pretty good. Our day ends with a show we watch together-Team Umizoomi, Doc McStuffins,-something commercial free that we view and chat about. Of course we read a story in bed afterwards (I have not completely gone to the dark side of parenting) but I find that last hour downstairs on the couch together to be relaxing, fun, and maybe a little bit educational.
“Mommy, this girl in school started yelling at a bee and I told her not to because bees make nectar and that makes the earth happy.” Seriously, where do they get this stuff? Television of course. I know a little red paint on the floor never hurt anybody, but maybe a little television couldn’t hurt either. So while I will continue to make a conscience effort about television time, I think I am going to relax a little bit on the guilt and go with my gut.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.