Many of my parenting ideas fall outside of the mainstream. I believe that an unmedicated childbirth is a newborn’s birthright. I believe in extended nursing, and child-led weaning. We practiced Elimination Communication and both of our boys were out of diapers before they could talk. But what really gets people is this: we don’t let our kids watch TV.
Oh, the gasps! The jaw-dropping! No TV!? That’s right, no TV. Nothing. Nothing “educational”. No Sesame Street. No videos. And get this: not even “Blossom” or “The Big Bang Theory.”
1. Education. My husband and I prefer to educate our children with books and words that come out of our mouths and our minds. We believe that children under the age of 7 or so don’t need any structured “education.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recently backed me up on this and said that children do not benefit from TV watching. And most people whose kids watch TV might be stretching the definition of “educational” when you consider that most children’s programming is meant to be entertaining first, and educational really only as a selling point to the parents.
2. Sesame Street. Yes, of course I watched it as a child, and, no, I don’t seek to deny my children pleasure to serve my self-important elitist stances, as some have suggested. That I enjoyed something as a child 30 years ago does not necessarily mean that it’s appropriate or right for my kids today. I also enjoyed dairy and meat as a child, but that’s something my husband and I have opted to raise our children without. As parents, we get to decide what’s right for our kids regardless of what we ourselves enjoyed as kids, right?
3. Commercials. I don’t like the way that advertisers and toy manufacturers take every show and turn it into a set of things that I have to either buy or be begged by my child to buy. There’s plenty of time to turn my sweet children into consuming members of our capitalist society; why start so early!?
4. Videos. Videos do avoid the issue of commercials, but they are still encouraging a medium we do not want introduced yet. The TV format and presentation is hypnotic and mesmerizing and we simply don’t want that for our kids. The first video I allowed my son to see was of a home birth so that he would be prepared for the birth of his baby brother.
Nixing the Time-Saving Excuse
For those of you whose kids watch TV, I have heard that you do any or all of the following in that time: make phone calls, catch up on emails, clean the house, cook, meditate, exercise, or read for pleasure. I know that some of you even have sex behind locked doors while your kids watch TV and that sounds like a lot of fun!
I do all of the aforementioned things, too, but just not while my kids are watching TV. I get stuff done as they play with their toys, mold clay, or have a snack. Sometimes they even help me (in their own sweet way) when I have to clean the house. As for the sex, that has to wait until they are asleep and that’s the long and the short of it.
The TV Star’s Take
As for “my show,” my kids have no context for the notion of actors since they don’t watch TV. As it stands now, Mama’s “work” is me straightening my hair (my 5-year-old calls it my “wig”), putting on make-up and high heels, going out, coming back a few hours later, and getting back into PJs as my hair recurls throughout the day.
Will they someday see me on TV? Yes. Do other children we know in our community see me on TV? Yes. Does my older son think all Mamas have a Barbie doll made in their likeness? Yes. Am I lying to them? No. I am simply giving them information about my life that is developmentally appropriate. I am keeping aspects of my work private until they can understand it better in its proper context.
Every girl’s dream.
We have let them watch small doses of sports (with fast-forwarded commercials). For us, this is a way to teach about athletics and it has really inspired our older son on the soccer field — when he scored his first goal against a 4-year-old girl who was busy plucking daisies on the field, he literally did a Landon Donovan victory lap, arms in the air like it was the World Cup.
When he first saw a cheerleader on TV, our son asked my husband the exact sentence I often ask: “Why do those women need to stand there in their underwear?” Moments like this remind us how innocent tiny minds can be, and TV doesn’t take that innocence into account.
In general, TV is not made for small people. Case in point: our children are very sensitive and commercials for horror films and video games terrify them. I don’t intend to shelter or coddle my children; they simply don’t need to be “taught” to be tough/mature/independent by becoming desensitized to violence and misogyny. There is plenty of time for that later on in life!
Avoiding Couch Potato Kids
To sum this all up as bluntly as I can, I don’t like the way kids’ eyes glaze over when they stare at a TV. I don’t like the commercials, I don’t like the ads, I don’t like the fast cuts, and I don’t like the messages I see on kids’ programming. I don’t like that kids will keep asking for more TV time than they already have allotted to them, and I don’t like that otherwise reasonable children throw hysterical fits when you tell them that their TV time is up, as if you have removed their beloved doll or… dare I say it… a drug.
Do I think I am better than you for not letting my kids watch TV? Not at all. Do I think that no children should watch TV? Maybe, but that’s really up to each individual family to decide.
Someday we will show our boys Star Wars Episodes 1-6 (starting with Episode 3 of course; did I mention we are also HUGE nerds!?). Someday we will use videos and shows to teach about things that are hard to experience hands-on, such as komodo dragons in their natural habitat, cruelty-free virtual animal dissections for biology, and images of far-off places we are learning about. Someday our boys will see the musicals I loved as a child that we sing to on my old LP’s: Bugsy Malone, Pete’s Dragon, Mary Poppins.
Someday when they are old enough to manage the images, the limits, and the medium, it will be the perfect time.
And on that someday they will all of a sudden understand why people take our photo in airports even when Mama didn’t wear enough cover-up or her best underwire bra. And on that someday when it all comes together behind their blue, blue eyes–Mama at the Academy Awards!? Mama on five seasons of a TV show? Mama on the cover of magazines!? Mama writing about us in a book and for Kveller!–they will look at me for a split second a little bit like they don’t know me. And I will shed a tear that only mamas can shed, because on that someday, a little bit of their innocence will be gone, thanks to that magical hypnotic complicated amazing and utterly mesmerizing TV.
To everything there is a season. And for my boys, there will be five to learn about. Someday.