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My love/hate relationship with TV

Am I the only one who feels bad about letting their children watch TV? Please tell me I am not. To be fair I never wanted to have a TV at home. But my husband really wanted one and we ended up with one. It’s not that I hate TV. I love watching TV shows. But let’s face it, once you have it on your living room the temptation to turn it on is too big. If we had a spare room I would move it there so that we could have a TV free living room.

Why do I feel bad?

I read too much. That’s a problem. Let me highlight here some of the things I’ve read about TV and infancy:

Doctors and government health officials should set limits, as they do for alcohol, on the amount of time children spend watching screens – and under-threes should be kept away from the television altogether, according to a paper in an influential medical journal published on Tuesday. “Ban under-threes from watching television, says study”, The Guardian, October 2012

“We found every additional hour of TV exposure among toddlers corresponded to a future decrease in classroom engagement and success at math, increased victimization by classmates, have a more sedentary lifestyle, higher consumption of junk food and, ultimately, higher body mass index,” says lead author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a psychosocial professor at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Montreal. May 2010.

Three studies since 1999 have tracked educational television use and language development, and they found a link between increased TV time and developmental delays. Whether that’s a cause or effect — parents who leave kids in front of televisions might simply be poor teachers — isn’t clear, nor are the long-term effects, but the AAP called the findings “concerning.” In the same vein, there may also be a link to attention problems. Even when media plays in the background, it distracts babies from play, an activity that is known to have deep developmental benefits. And for parents who use media to carve out a few precious, necessary free minutes in busy schedules, Brown recommended letting kids entertain themselves. “It’s Official: To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV”,      Brandon Keim, WIRED, October 2011.

So, research suggests that it is not a very healthy habit for infants to watch TV, above all if they are parked in front of it for hours and without guidance from their parents.

How I control TV time?

Up until recently (at about 23 months old), my son didn’t watch much TV. It was like a background noise for him. Until he discovered that you could watch tractors on TV. Then, the madness ensued, and we had to be quite strict.

I’m trying to turn on the TV only if he asks for it and there is no other alternative (for example, if he wakes up at 5 and doesn’t go back to sleep and it’s too early to be running like a maniac waking up the neighbours). For a couple of weeks, I turned the TV because I was on autopilot. He didn’t even have to ask for it! That can’t be. We also have a little paper with the schedule of the day, including lunches, play and TV time. Obviously, my son doesn’t understand the concept of time yet, but showing him what time it is and what the schedule says seems to do the trick sometimes: I know you want to watch TV now, but look here says that it’s bath time.

For the most part, we watch TV together and we talk about we are watching. After the show we play what we watched. It is the start of a dialogue that I hope continues as my son grows up and we watch shows with a profounder content. I think that it’s important to be present while watching TV, to not be a zombie. It also helps me decide if what we are watching is what I want my son to watch. What values are they teaching? By replaying what we watched and incorporating some of the show story lines to our play we are to process together the shows message.

What we watch?

We watch a variety of German, Spanish and English/American shows and some nature documentaries:

  • Pocoyo
  • Die Mause
  • Laura Stern
  • Car City
  • Dinotrux
  • Shaun the Sheep

We don’t watch them every day.  Ideally, I don’t want to watch TV more than two hours a day. Winters are tough because it gets dark very early.

What I do wrong?

When I want to do the dishes, have a shower or have a moment for myself, I put Car City on. I tell myself, it is just five minutes. But when I come back, as he is entertained I think to myself: Well, he seems content. I can make the most of it and (insert random chore). It’s a circle that never stops. I feel terrible about it. I know it’s only my fault. Now I try to give him a task related to the chore or give him a puzzle instead of turning on the TV. My hope is to use TV just as a last resort.

How do I peel of my toddler of the screen?

Sometimes the show is over and YouTube autoplay is on and there it goes Supertruck to rescue Car City again. My toddler is so into this show that he won’t listen to me. How do we move on with my routine? Well, if it’s nap time, I simply tell him that I’m going to bed. I go to bed and pretend to be asleep. It can take about 15 minutes, but he joins me. We talk about what Supertruck just did and sleep.

If I just want him to stop watching TV and play, I start playing alone, very loudly, very histrionically. Children love melodrama and silliness. The sillier you look, the sooner they will join you. As I have his attention I swiftly move to another room or outside. The charm of the TV is over. If we stay in the living room, I slowly turn the volume down. When he is completely immersed on playing, I turn it off. I find that if I turn it off at the beginning he might snap or have a tantrum.

Another trick on my sleeve is cooking. We have an open concept kitchen-living area, so I prepare all the ingredients, take his chair to the kitchen and call him. It works like a charm. He loves cooking.

And that’s it. My rant about TV is over. How do you feel about your children watching TV?

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