One of the first pieces I wrote for Kveller.com was about how my kids don’t watch TV. And at the time, they didn’t. Well, my boys are now almost 4 and almost 7 and I’m here to give you the update.
Since I know the American public has an impatient temperament, I will let you know off the bat that although they by no means “watch TV,” they have seen some TV, albeit not on an actual TV.
For the more patient among you, let’s back this train up.
When Did It Start?
When I started working more on The Big Bang Theory, my younger son was still breastfeeding a LOT and still only went to sleep by breastfeeding. My husband, by necessity, had to learn to put this child to sleep (without trying to lactate, because let’s face it, it’s complicated enough for us women). He found that rocking and pacing with him while giving a bottle of my breastmilk did the trick. But sometimes it took a long time. Like a very long time. Like maybe an hour. And then there was the issue of the older son who had very little patience for his little brother getting all of the dada love and attention and a bottle of mama milk as well. The humanity!
And so my husband sometimes would put an episode of Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street on the computer while he put the little one to bed, and then he would turn off the computer and put the older munchkin to bed.
How Did I Feel About It?
Well, I’m still holding strong with the notion that I don’t really like TV for small people. For all of the reasons we Waldorf-y, hippie-ish, tech- and consumer-paranoid people don’t like the medium, I don’t. But as the working parent, I don’t have the right to tell my husband how to handle two boys at bedtime. I know some women in my position would tell their husbands what to feed the kids every meal, and what time their bath should be, and what they should do with their evening, but that’s not my relationship with my husband. So he gets to–within reason–parent them if I am not at home to parent them. And honestly, he’s the one home with them in the trenches, and I am at work. So he is literally the one dealing with them.
What Happened Next?
My husband and I learned very quickly that showing TV to our son eventually led to once in a while showing TV to both of our sons, because TV is seductive and gets into your soul and grabs a hold and won’t let go (I told you!). Our boys quickly started associating “mama go bye bye” with “TV!!!” and it became really unbearable for all of us. Our older son especially would cry and beg for TV and sometimes he would beg for me to leave so he could watch TV. That made us really sad, since he missed me so much when I was at work, but it was literally like he wanted his “fix” more than he had access to his love for his time with me. It’s a strong drug, that TV.
My husband and I both realized it was not a healthy situation. By that time, our younger son was older and not nursing to bed, and TV left our home life for the most part. Maybe once in a while my husband will put something on for them on the computer if I am tied up for an interview or doing something in the part of the house they have all of their toys in, but there is absolutely no regularity or pattern to it, and there are no more tears about it.
Where Are We Now?
What do our sons do with their time and young burgeoning lives if not watch TV? Oh, heavens. They do so much. They build cities out of LEGO, they race matchbox cars and marbles down a giant cardboard tube (the kind when you buy a rug the rug comes wrapped around; save them, they are wonderful additions to any home with children!), they make a baseball diamond out of the two mattresses we sleep on and play baseball with a balloon, they make movies where they are first fighting and then hugging and kissing, they whine about being bored: standard kid stuff.
We have traveled a lot as a family this past year for my speaking engagements. Sometimes we fly on an airline that has TV screens installed in each seat, and I think those airlines should stop doing that, because once your kid has a taste of the beast, there is little way out of its belly. Our older son, because of these airlines and his taste of the beast, has now seen shows such as ICarly and Victorious, and we monitor closely what he is watching and I can’t believe he likes those shows but I guess they’re fun. I don’t know. Sometimes he will watch Cartoon Network and he laughs and laughs and at least 30 times a flight we have to lift that headset off of his tiny ear and shush him gently. Our younger son thinks any animation (and particularly Sponge Bob) is fantastic and he will watch any cartoons happily on airplanes. My husband also has some simple “books” on the iPad that are interactive and they can press on icons to move the page along; some have logic games built in, and those are educational-ish.
There have been a few times when my (brave!) husband has had to fly alone with both boys to meet me for an event that I had to fly out earlier for. On those trips, if TV screens are not in the seat in front of you, he has Sesame Street on his iPad and the boys watch that. My little guy is supremely sensitive and he invariably sees something that makes him cry hysterically (last time it was an admittedly disturbing man in an elephant suit dancing wildly).
My older son is sort of lost to the world of airplane TV. He doesn’t need to eat on planes anymore, or even use the bathroom, he is so transfixed by that little box. Getting him to stop to even make a bathroom break makes him so distraught, and he literally could sit there for an entire flight and never take a break and that scares me. It’s mesmerizing and it’s hypnotizing. And I know it’s not the end of anyone’s world, but I also know that his dialogue for the days after a flight is to recount everything he saw on that TV. He wants to tell every joke, and retell every scenario, and it makes me sad to not really feel terribly invested in these beaming, sterile, slapstick teenagers he has been watching on TV.
What Still Works
As for the younger one who tends to get scared of things, and also still craves human attention more than the images on a screen, on our last flight, I comforted him after the scary elephant made him cry. We sang songs with hand accompaniment (Where is Thumbkin?, Patty-Cake, Snitch-Snatch and other Waldorf-y songs). We went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and smiled. We read some stories from
Frog and Toad
. We waved at other travelers. We practiced saying “I love you” and “How are you?” a million different ways. It was really nice.
There are many times every day when I question the choices I have made and what that has led to. I am not the parent who is home all day. I am the working parent. I am the kind of woman who believes that my husband can make decisions (within reason!) that I may not agree with. I have to be okay with not being the parent whose kids don’t watch TV until they’re 10 (my ideal).
I know TV is not going to ruin my kids’ brains at this point. But I also know that I do not at all want TV to be a regular part of their young lives. TV will have a part in their learning, of course, as well as their entertainment. And I don’t condemn people that “use” TV to give themselves a break. It’s not for me, despite the temptation (imagine a whole five hours AT HOME with my older son transfixed–I could get all the floors and toilets cleaned and also take a nap and do some macrame!).
And bless my younger son for being sensitive, because he has prolonged the opportunity for me to remember that nothing, NOTHING–no TV, no shiny toy, no expensive trips and fancy hotels–NOTHING takes the place of someone holding you when you’re sad, someone helping you remember songs you thought you had forgotten, and someone telling you they love you. A million different ways.
For other parent’s perspective on the matter, check out this defense of television, the fears of on-demand TV, and the effects of too much screen time for kids.