O Television

27 01 2015

I wholeheartedly buy the studies about how much TV is okay vs bad for my small kids’ brains, so I’m coming to terms with how I’m doing especially my 2-year-old a terrible disservice by letting (letting? Desperately relying on the time I gain by encouraging) her (to) have as much of the stuff as I do. It’s science, right? She’s not interacting, she’s learning passively if at all, her body is idle, etc etc.

But. First, the logistical: sometimes I need her body to be idle–because sometimes she gets physically loopy from her constant need to Climb All The Things and needs to sit down for a while (and yes, of course I read her stories, but have you ever seen a toddler listening to Mum read stories? They don’t sit down, they climb your body, roll on the floor, and practice downward dog. She sits for television, and I know too much sitting is bad, but so is falling on one’s face repeatedly from the never ending staggering). And sometimes–actually, right now, pretty darn often–I need her to be safely occupied and not where I am so I can nurse her sister to sleep, as that’s currently the only way the baby will go into a much-needed nap, and she’s gotten highly distractable as we enter her seventh month. Also, because I’m selfish and terrible, sometimes I let her go downstairs and watch TV first thing in the morning with Daddy because it’s still pitch black out and I want to lie in the dark and listen to my baby breathe for just a little longer. And because my priorities are downright rotten, sometimes I let her watch a few extra episodes of something cute and tinny or another while I put diapers into the wash and do a round of dishes so that, when the baby is dirty later and the rest of us are hungry, we’ll have diapers. And dishes.

My husband, who believes the universe is out to get him, or at least trip him often and throw his papers in the mud and have a laugh, complains that our parents must have known something magical we don’t know, because our houses growing up were not filthy like our house is now, and yet we don’t remember them ever putting off our requests to play by saying “not now, honey, I have to clean the _________.” In fact, we don’t remember them cleaning much of anything. And they were happier, he insists. And less stressed out. And Dads could spend all day every Saturday at the pub watching a match (an important nostalgic English quality-of-living marker, apparently) and nobody would mind! The magic, one of our friends pointed out on Facebook the last time he brought this up, of course, was television. We didn’t ask our parents to play–or notice that they were cleaning, or notice if Dad was gone all day (mine was at a soccer field, coaching)–because we were busily, happily watching television. Our parents could converse while making dinner every night. We were watching television. They could sleep in every Saturday–cartoons were on television. They could ship us off to school every morning without a fight: we brushed our teeth while watching television. And of course what to threaten us with for punishment was obvious.

So, okay, they probably overdid it. We watched a lot of garbage not worth the hours logged limp as jello in the living room, certainly. But we also watched shows we were passionate about, characters we empathized with, NOVA science investigations that broadened our worlds. We learned about the wide range of grown-ups different from our parents from TV movies, the trouble kids could get into that we’d rather avoid ourselves from after-school specials, and all kinds of creative, crazy anti-physics from those zillions of hours of cartoons. And we didn’t leave it on the screen: my brother and our friends played Dukes of Hazard on the swing set, V climbing all over his bunk beds, Star Wars and G.I. Joe on the back deck and the woods behind our house. Television fueled our active play and role play as well as what we built with LEGOs or enacted with figures and matchbox cars (Knight Rider). So, on the one hand I’m wary, trying to keep an eye on the clock and the number of excuses I make in a week for letting Evanny watch her favourite shows and movies, and on the other, I feel a little like a spy for the dark side. Because she doesn’t just watch the shows–she uses scenarios from them to create scenes for her own running and climbing, for her toy figures’ adventures and interactions; she sees new things in our days and cries out her recognition, telling me how she learned about this from a show. The repeated elements in some of her favourites have ballooned her vocabulary. Yesterday, curling into my lap to look at a David Attenborough documentary I’d put on to have something pretty to look at while playing baby on the floor during E’s nap, she stared, wide-eyed, at the rippling motion of a sea-cucumber moving across the floor of the Red Sea and gasped “wow! I’ve never seen that before!” World: broadened.

The studies say kids under 3 should have 0 hours of television per week, so we’re obviously doing something wrong. But our under-3 is also learning–language, science, social skills, scene-building, and storytelling–from the television, more than she could possibly be doing by just vying for my attention while I play patty-cake with myself to make the baby smile all day (and yes, we also read books, and draw/colour/paint/sculpt with play dough, and cook together, and do puzzles, and play board games–I say “nope, that’s enough TV today” all the time), so my dark-side suspicion is that we’re also doing something right.

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