Saturday, November 13, 2010

Confessions of a Recovering TV Abuser

I knew better. I knew exactly why I didn't want TV for a babysitter. I knew as well as anybody could, and it still happened to us.

It started so innocently. We started watching wholesome "Baby Signing Time" videos. The kids were learning sign language! Van was signing all over the place!

Then there was nap time. Nuvy, for all my efforts to make her self-directing, could not entertain herself while I was putting Van down for a nap, which was causing me considerable unrest--so I plopped her on the couch and put in a movie. Baby Signing Time became Disney princess movies (with some interim steps) and she was hooked.

Of course, when Nuvy watches TV, Van watches TV, and Van cannot get enough. We started in with the really hard stuff. Nick-Jr. On Demand, Sprout, endless reruns of Yo Gabba Gabba (I can see how that show got made---but WHY!!!?). Kent and I began following cable drama series, comedy series, watching the MSNBC triumvirate of time wasting (Hardball, Countdown, Maddow) for four solid hours of a weekday evening (they rerun them the same night!)--the 2008 election season was particularly riveting for us. Then, the winter olympics. Unmissable TV events all.

I had excuses, and they weren't too embarrassing. It's too cold out. It's too hot out. It's raining. It's a beautiful day, but I'm so busy--there'll be another pretty day tomorrow. We'll go out after nap. We'll go out all day on Saturday. I'll just run this load of laundry/dishes/answer this email/make this phone call and then turn it off. Turn it off in the middle of a program? They'll go nuts! Watch another one? It's only 25 minutes, right? It's an educational show, right? No? Ok, but there's a lesson in everything right? Right???

My two-year-old knew more sign language than I did, more spanish, chinese, even!! But then I noticed his pincer grasp wasn't all that solid, his toys were dusty, his tricycle buried in the back of the garage, he asked for TV from sun to sun--I was raising a TV junkie!

We cut the cable cord. That saved us a few bucks a month, but it solved nothing. Who needs it? You can download anything you want, plus there's PBS! Good-for-you TV, right? SuperWhy! Dinosaur Train! Charlie Rose! Sesame street! This was TV that admonished you to get off the couch and go read a book or play outside--but there we were, watching the world go by on TV.

I was disgusted, yes, but so busy. I have a business to run! A house to maintain! A life! When Kent brought it up, I said "Well, you're always plopping them in front of the TV, so what are you complaining about? Why don't you do something about it?"


People do this. A lot of people make this choice. A lot of people I know do it.

The Waldorf parents sign a contract promising to do it. We can do it, too.

We turned it off. "Mommy, TV!" from Van. "Can we watch Toy Story 2?" from Nuvy. "Please, Mommy?" All the sugar of a can of Nehi Grape in her voice. "No TV, guys. Go play."

Howls of protest. Disbelief. Anguish. Rage. Oh, God, this is never going to work. Shouldn't we ease into this?

No, we would not ease into it. We went cold turkey. No prononouncements, no threats, no lying that it's "broken" (then magically "fixed" for the evening news). No lectures. We just turned it off. Radio silence.

Ok, radio silence was too radical for me, but I have music! I hit shuffle on the old iPod and the household just switched gears. I found I didn't need to entertain them. They cried, but they did not die. They did not run away. Eventually, they just found something else to do. We started listening to a lot of music. I love the shuffle function, because you can get Edith Piaf, Neil Young, Erykah Badu, Bach, and Tibetan Monks chanting "Om mani padme hum" for 25 minutes--all in the same sitting. The monks generated a lot of conversation, but I think that's for another post.

After a week or so of rediscovering old toys and re-reading the old board books, we got some jigsaw puzzles. My girl is a jigsaw puzzle wizard! Who knew?

Kent and I are both mostly just amazed at how easy it was. Nuvy is almost 5 now, she doesn't need Walt Disney to occupy her while Van goes down for a nap. She can look at a book, or do a puzzle, or dress herself up, draw, any of a hundred things she can find to do of an afternoon. I did have to give up a little screen time myself, but how much of that was I spending reading The Daily Dish anyway? I find that, now that we just quit TV, it's not any harder to entertain the kids than it was WITH the TV. They can play by themselves, they sometimes fight, but unless they're killing each other, they are learning to negotiate--sort of chaotically--something that is hard to tolerate when you get used to TV-induced quiet.

However, I found that I can and should accommodate myself to a little more noise, and stay out of it a little more, which I also have to do now that I can't keep them still long enough to do housework or make phone calls. This is their "homework".

One thing I learned is that it was the dutiful control-freak in me that made me vulnerable. "Helicopter parenting" of little kids is exhausting, so it's easy to give in to that beguiling boob tube. It gave me time to breathe, and to think about something else for a minute.

The big news is that by stepping back a little, and allowing a little inter-sibling chaos, everybody at our house is happier and more productive. We even gave up "ambient TV" (the news) and watch our news programs after their bedtime, through the wonder of streaming video. The only TV our kids see at our house is when the babysitter is here, which makes them happy to see the babysitter, so it works out for everybody.

Anybody got a TV thought to share?


Emily said...

you're right: Signing Time is awesome, and a total gateway show. Luckily mine is still too young to ask, but he does dance to theme songs...

h said...

oh gosh - this post was so timely for me - I started out with "absolutely no tv on while children are awake" ideals..but now, pregnant and exhausted, I am starting down a slippery slope of allowing myself to veg out in front of the tv while my daughter plays at my feet.

I've also started to think to myself "maybe i should get some Signing Time or language learning DVDs, just in case I need something for #1 to do while I take care of #2"...

Glad to read your cautionary tale of gateway shows...and to be reassured that she CAN learn to entertain herself while I care for another child - to all of our benefit. Thank you!

Marcy said...

I've been relying on TV way more now that I'm pregnant. For the first 2 years or so, my son watched none... Then it became a little here and there, and the past few months (I'm 8 months pregnant now) there are many days where we hit the 2hr limit... and we've had a few where we pass it. He doesn't watch live TV< it's mostly Mighty Machine DVDs and he LOVES Bob the Builder.

I go back and forth on how helpful this really is. On days where I can hardly muster the energy to do anything but lay next to him on the couch, it's a great break... until I have to turn it off, and he throws a fit. He's also normally really great at entertaining himself, but if we go through a stretch where he's watched lots of TV for several days in a row, the self-play doesn't come as easily and he just asks to watch TV instead. I see what it does to him and his mood and imagination, yet it's still so tempting most days. I waffle back and forth between figuring it's not that big a deal and only temporary, and feeling pretty guilty about it... =(

Liss@Random said...

I teach at a Montessori preschool, and we actually go out of our way not to promote a lot of media images. We have culled such donated books from our library, there are no wall decorations, there are no dvds or toys of them. We go to the tv as an absolutely last resort as a school (read: it has been raining all week, and it's now Friday and the teachers have redirected them every which way to Sunday and are about to go insane).

I've always been very wary about 'teaching' dvds such as Little Einsteins and Leapfrog. Not so much Signing Time or those that can teach something you can't, but with the others, why can't we read a book, or incorporate these lessons into our daily interactions.

Now, I know I have to tread carefully here, as I'm not a parent myself, and I do know how busy being a parent can be, but I believe that picking out the right toys can help a child to teach themselves. What did we play with to fire up our imagination as a child? These are the things I think we need to go back to.

I restarted a storytelling tradition with my students, telling them all the fun folk tales I heard as a child, (although I stay away from most of the princess ones) and I can keep them entertained with them for over an hour! Then listening to them play, I often hear these stories repeated to each other. What fun! A little creativity goes a long, long way!

Emily said...

PS - I feel like Tibetan Monks should be added to our music rotation. Do you have a recommendation?

giltron said...

babysitter + tv = kids happy = great idea.

Marcy said...

Liss@Random-- I tend to agree with you re: toys. I suppose it could just be my kiddo's personality, but my 2yo amazes people with how long he can focus, and how interested he'll be in the simplest things (can play with a stick, an ice cream scoop, and some dirt for a good half hour) and I think a LOT of it has to do with the fact that we've had almost no automated toys-- they've all been things HE has to do something with (no sitting and watching lights blink or pushing a button to make music play). Nothing is hard-and-fast with kids, but I do think the toys we choose for our kids can have an impact on their play, focusing, imagination, etc.

Jill said...

I have mixed feelings about the television. I like educational television, and even I've learned some things about what my toddler is actually capable of communicating by watching. And you seriously can't overestimate the value of some of those Yo Gabba Gabba songs!

However, I've over-used it to have some much needed quiet time (like some of you when my #2 was born) and I've begun to realize that it actually has the opposite effect. My son's behavior is more chaotic in general when the television is on, even if he's sitting trance-like for a while.