The Great TV Debate

A comment made me realize I should devote some time and space to one of the big parenting dilemmas: television for our children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under two years old. There are mothers I know through an online message board forum who are quite proud of the fact that their children watch television several times a week, and they claim that it has “taught” them a number of new concepts and facts.

Most of us probably know the arguments against letting young children watch TV. There are no studies supporting any benefit from even “educational” programming, and experts have linked early television watching with later obesity, diabetes, and attention deficit disorder.

So, what are the arguments in favor of plunking a toddler down in front of the tube? The moms I know who seem to turn it on a lot (more than 30 minutes a day, more than two or three times a week) claim that their children like it. They say that their child has learned something (Spanish, numbers, animal names and sounds) through watching. There seems to be a lot of justification in this argument – I only let her watch when she’s sleepy and had a bad nap; I only turn on DVDs and not commercial TV; I only play it for her when I need to take a shower or do the dishes; I only let her watch educational channels.

So where do we stand on the TV continuum? I think we’re only slightly off-center on this one. For one thing, my pet peeve in this particular debate is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition of what we mean when we talk about it. So I’m going to be really honest and describe exactly what we do on a typical day. I do not turn on television specifically for NewDotBaby, but when we get up I watch one of those perky morning news shows – and NDB is in the living room while it’s on. He plays with his toys, we sing songs, I pull him into my lap for a story. Very rarely does it seem to catch his attention – otherwise he ignores it. I turn it off when the old guy and his young co-host are Live! and we have some peace and quiet. During NDB’s nap, I am usually watching something that I tivo’ed the day before and it often runs longer than his sleep does. So when he gets up, he is usually in the room for a little of that. Afterward, it’s back off (and we’re frequently out of the house to run errands anyway). We watch the news in the evening, and when NewDotDad gets home from work we usually watch an episode of The Cosby Show.

When I write it all down, it sounds like a LOT of television. I justify our way of doing things by reasoning that it’s not turned on for him – and that he ignores it – and that it’s not all day long. But do I think I’m doing the best thing for him? No, in this case I do think I could be doing better.

NDD has some real couch-potato tendencies, and I think I’m pretty average in my TV consumption. But I’d like NDB to grow up making better choices than either of us, and in order to encourage that I need to be modeling what I want for him.

Right now, I’m probably sending him the message that we need the television for background noise a lot of the time. I don’t really feel that way – I’d rather have more quiet time (as much as that’s possible with a baby!) for reading and playing. I’m also probably sending the message that TV is something great for grownups, which will only serve to make it more appealing as he gets older and wants to mimic everything we do.

I hope that NDB sees less TV than most babies, but I don’t run a TV-free house. Part of me wishes I could (but I love NDD too much to suggest he abandon his adored tube) but part of me feels that we are on the right track to teaching him about balance. Writing this post has made me stop and think about our habits – good and bad – and that reflection will probably help me bring the subject up with NDD and decide if we can start implementing some changes.


4 Responses to The Great TV Debate

  1. Courtney says:

    What about audio only? I LOVE me some Boston Legal and Grey’s Anatomy, and a random rerun on Arrested Development, but I do my best to not have the TV on at all around my son, except sometimes in the evening when I (hang head in shame) am about to collapse.
    I am a semi-proud owner of the FULL set of Baby Einstein videos, but am on the fence about how those will be used in my house. So far, I’ve used them on a plane, and at my inlaws house…since our normal distractions were missing, and like me, my son is not too keen on leaving the confines of our cozy home…

    Anyhow, our daily “multimedia” routine is this: I get news and weather from a combination of NPR and the internet. My iPod has thousands of songs ranging from classical to Christmas, bubble gum pop to hip hop, and we play that through our stereo for most of the day. I bought a couple of baby einstein classical cds, and he really seems to like the cheeriness of those…personally, I’d prefer him to hear Bach on an organ, not a xylophone…but whatever makes him happy!

    Everytime I turn the tv on to watch something that I want to watch, I start feeling guilty. I don’t NEED tv, and while I could probably find a way to watch 3-4 hours of it a day (in my spare time, ha!), I just don’t think I want him to even get the itch to model after that behavior.

    Full disclosure here: I bought my husband a 42 inch flat screen/HDTV for Christmas…so, it’s like like we’re tv haters…and he tends to catch up on tivo’d shows like prison break and battlestar gallactic when he’s in charge of the baby…so, it’s definitely not a rule here yet…and that’s fine. He works very long, hard hours, so i don’t begrudge him the chance to tune in when he’s home. But, when it’s just me ,the tv stays off.

  2. The NewDotFamily says:

    You know, I always think of the radio and CD player later on!!! I have been flipping it on now that there’s a radio station playing 24-hour Christmas music. That’s a good point – if I’m wanting ‘background’ noise I have a ton of music I can play for both of us.

    I hear you on the guilt – I have started feeling the same way! Funny how what started as just being conscious of my habits has made me tune in to the guilt.

    I had to laugh about your husband’s new TV :0) We’re hardly TV-haters either… we have a medium-sized screen in the living room, a 27-inch flat panel in the office that doubles as our computer monitor, and an older 19-inch in our bedroom. That’s a lot of televisions for two adults!!! NewDotDad is the same way, he catches up on his shows and watches sports when he is taking care of NDB.

    I think the biggest thing I’m realizing is that we need to have a position – any position! But right now we just seem to do “whatever” and I have this vague sense of guilt and inferiority. If we can sit down and hash out details, then we can stick to our own rules and (hopefully) banish the guilt.

  3. Courtney says:

    Oh mommy guilt…what a crazy, crazy thing. I tend to be a guilt-ridden person, anyhow…but this whole motherhood thing has really taken it to a new level. Not an hour passes where I don’t feel extreme guilt for SOMETHING.

    Guilt for that 2nd glass of wine (even though he won’t wake up to nurse for hours). Guilt for keeping my job, even though I work flexible hours from home. The thought of guilt from having significantly less money, and the pressure husband would feel if I stopped working. Guilt for being a good boss (aka, cruddy mom), and guilt for being a good mom (aka, cruddy boss). Oh, the list goes on and on and on…

  4. whymommy says:

    Yeah, TV guilt is hard. It’s so easy to just turn it on and make the little tyke happy … but I’m amazed at what he can come up with to do when he’s not zoned out (and mine is one of the kids that do zone out if the tv is on). Now I feel challenged to post about this myself, so I’ll do that instead of taking over your comments here! Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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