There are plenty of parents out there who are adamantly opposed to the idea of young children watching TV. And I should know, because I used to be one of them. For the longest time, I refused to let my toddler sit on the couch fixated on a screen. I wanted him to spend his time playing with puzzles, building with blocks, and moving around–not glued to the television.
But one day I had no choice but to try a TV-related experiment. My son’s day care lost power overnight during a storm, and I found out the next morning that the center would not be able to open that day. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse, as I had a (pre-nap time) work deadline looming and needed at least an hour to complete a major project. Rather than ignore my son, I decided to try turning on the television to see what would happen.
At first I wasn’t even convinced he’d have the attention span to sit there watching Barney (yep, I went old school), but after a few minutes he seemed fairly content. I, on the other hand, was not. Even though we were only talking about two back-to-back kids’ shows, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this one concession would kick-start an unhealthy habit that I’d previously gone out of my way to discourage. In fact, following that incident, I made a promise to myself that TV would be limited to “emergency” situations alone. And for some time afterward, it didn’t actually go on at all while my son was around or awake.
But then the winter of 2014 came on in full swing, bringing with it more snow than the Tri-State area had seen in years. And that’s when my opinion about television started to change. I realized that when you’re stuck indoors weekend after weekend, and you’ve got a restless 2-year-old, sometimes you can give in and allow your child a bit of TV. And while I definitely make a point of limiting the amount of time my son spends in front of the television, I’m actually no longer disappointed in myself for allowing him to watch it occasionally. Here’s why:
1. I’ve seen my child pick up new words and ideas from certain programs. (Since I only allow my son to watch shows that are unquestionably age-appropriate, I don’t really have to worry about the content itself acting as a negative influence.) Case in point: My child enjoys “Thomas & Friends,” which features a moving puzzle segment where viewers are instructed to “keep guessing” who the character will be as the pieces fall into place. My son fell in love with that particular gimmick, and shortly after watching it, he came up with a game where he instructed me to “keep guessing” what type of fruit he was interested in eating. To me, that was pretty impressive, and it’s a concept I know he learned from the show. Since then, I’ve made a point of asking him to repeat what he sees on TV so that we can review what he’s learned.
2. Allowing my son to watch an hour’s worth of TV on the weekends gives me a chance to catch up on essential household duties during which I’d otherwise have to ignore him in order to accomplish. Since my husband sometimes works on the weekends, it’s often up to me to entertain our son while also managing to get the cooking and laundry done. By offering my child a little TV time, it lets me do the things I need to do without leaving him feeling slighted or neglected. (Trust me–I’ve tried the whole cooking with a kid hanging onto my leg deal–it’s not an efficient way to get things done.)
3. My son has been trained to accept the fact that television time has its limits. Our weekend-only TV routine, saved for cold or rainy days where we’re stuck indoors, consists of two back-to-back kids’ shows (usually the aforementioned purple dinosaur and trusty train). But once those programs are over, my son understands that TV time is done. And I think that’s a good mindset to set him up with for the future. I have friends with 1st and 2nd graders who complain that their kids can never get enough TV. By setting the expectation that television isn’t something we get to watch all day, I’m hoping it’ll prevent my son from becoming obsessed down the line.
Will my little plan backfire? Maybe. I’m not a child psychologist, and frankly, I’m in no position to advocate TV as a good thing, a bad thing, or a necessary evil. All I know is that letting my toddler watch a little TV works for me and our particular situation. It took me a long time to stop feeling guilty about that, but I’m finally in a place where I don’t cringe every time I sit him down in front of the screen.