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.