Greetings, Learning Expressions readers!
As part of this blog, we aim to offer you some insights on parenting - unquestionably the most important job in the world! Currently, the closest thing I have to a child is my pet cat named Lloyd Brewster Davies. Despite the fact I often try to rock him to sleep and plan to dress him up as Santa for our Christmas card, I am sure most of you would agree I am not all that well-equipped to proffer much perspicacious parenting advice.
Luckily, I have a good friend who has two young boys at home and is an expert at all things mom related. I am delighted to welcome Katherine Riolo (former journalist and PR manager) as a guest blogger – today she will be chatting with you about tots and TV time. Enjoy! - Kathryn
The Great TV Dilemma
Sometimes I yearn for the chance to empty the dishwasher in peace. Before I had two boys to contend with (age one and two) this task was simple—straightforward even. Now, it’s become a battle of sorts. The baby sees me open the dishwasher door, and he makes a beeline. All those shiny spoons and sharp knives are just too tempting. My toddler dances over and begs to help, which means he must hold each dish while I carefully lift him up (over and over and over again) to reach the cupboards. Between refereeing the two boys and keeping them safe from various kitchen weapons, the once simple task of emptying the dishwasher is transformed into quite the undertaking.
These are the times when I am tempted, sometimes beyond hope, to plop the two on the couch in front of the television. It’s a constant battle between the two voices in my head; One says, “Go on! One little episode of ‘Thomas and Friends’ can’t hurt!” And, then, “No, no, no! TV is not the solution! Too much ‘screen time’ (as the pamphlets in our pediatrician’s office declare) is bad! Bad! Bad!”
So far, we’ve managed to keep the screen time in our house relatively at bay. This, in turn, makes the TV an extremely effective babysitter for our two sons on the rare occasion that we do let them watch it. They become completely zonked out – eyes wide and mouths agape – and there’s no refereeing needed as long as those lights and sounds are coming out of that box. I can empty the dishwasher in three minutes flat! Fantastic!
But wait. Behold a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers found that kids who watch just nine minutes of “Sponge Bob Square Pants” do worse on tasks requiring focus and self-control than kids who watch a more slow-paced cartoon. Our pediatrician’s literature wasn’t joking when it forbid the dreaded screen. That’s it, I decided! I’ll banish all TV from my children’s lives.
And I did, for a while. Flash forward a few weeks to an appendicitis scare in our toddler. We sat for hours in a children’s hospital room which, of course, was no time to enforce the no-TV rule. Our little man appeared delighted with episodes of “Yo Gabba Gabba,” and the TV-zombie-trance seemed the only way to get him to stay in bed and stop messing with his IV.
An enthusiastic doctor came in later to check on the patient. “Do you see who this is?” he asked, pointing to a cartoon character sticker on his shirt. My toddler stared blankly. “It’s Dora. Do you like Dora?” More blank staring. The look on the doc’s face told me it was probably the first time the Dora card didn’t win him a connection to his pint-sized patient. I mean, really, what planet is my kid on that he’s the only one who doesn’t know Dora?? It would be one thing if we were some family of archeologists stationed at a dig on Rapa Nui. But no, we live in a moderately sized American city with access to all the modern amenities!
After our ordeal (thankfully the appendicitis was a false alarm, and we were sent home late that night) I began to rethink my enforcement of the screen-ban. I talked over the whole TV issue with my dad, a retired teacher. He told me I was being too much of a stickler about it, and he was adamant that kids should be culturally literate. Like it or not, he said, part of kids’ culture comes from TV. In playgroups and in school, they’re all going to be discussing the latest episodes. The kids who suffer under no-TV regimes are going to be totally left out of these conversations; he recalled from his teaching days that kids would lie and pretend to know all about the shows, in desperate attempts just to fit in.
So, despite the scary study from the AAP and warnings from my pediatrician’s handouts, my husband and I have concluded that the key to television in our home (like most pleasures in life!) is moderation. We have vowed not to lean on the TV as a crutch but to use it for short spells of downtime, as a special treat. Moderation might seem an obvious conclusion to anyone reading this, but we new parents sometimes need to take a somewhat winding course to reach our destinations.
Now that I’m at peace with the great TV dilemma (and pleased to report our toddler no longer eagerly asks when our next TV-watching hospital visit will be taking place) I’m free to focus my maternal anxiety on the next big challenge – potty training!
- Katherine Riolo