My TV, My Toddler

Pluck
Kim Schomburg

As I type this, my 2 year old daughter is enjoying her daily TV time.  Well, not tv exactly, but a DVD – one of around 20 selections we stock here at the Joynt Sandberg abode.  Today’s selection is Ratatouille.  We’ve got an extensive collection of Charlie Brown’s various holiday adventures, The Muppet Show, and some non-sexist pixar/disney films (although, upon further consideration, none of my selections pass the Bechtel Test, so I think I may need to re-consider this label – and, side note, has anyone else noticed how deeply sad the movie Up is from a feminist perspective?  Kick-ass woman lays aside her adventurous dream for a quiet married life only to leave the adventure to her dude in the end while she dies?!  What the?!  Am I wrong here?).

Each day, Ida chooses a program and spends 30-45 minutes slack-jawed and wide-eyed, motionless on the couch.  She talks frequently about her desire to “watch a show”, sometimes even in the middle of happily playing with a friend or while doing other activities that I consider to be superior in fun to watching TV.  This bugs me.  I hate that in the middle of a family get-together, Ida sometimes seems so preoccupied with her desire to watch TV that it keeps her from enjoying what we’re doing at that moment.  For a hot second I think to myself “ugh, I never should have let Ida start watching TV.”

I’ve thought a bit about how TV and media fit into our family life.  My husband and I LOVE TV.  Neither of us are the type to just have it on in the background of what we’re doing, nor do we watch it in front of Ida, but we both have a roster of programs that we watch, and we often unwind together after a long day with a glass of wine and our good friend Jon Stewart.  Often while we’re watching TV, a commercial that my husband wrote music for will pop up.  All this to say, television is part of our life (and pays the majority of our bills!).  I briefly imagined that we’d get rid of our TV when Ida was born, but dismissed this possibility almost immediately.  All parents must at some point make the discovery that having a kid does not provide sufficient motivation to become a totally different person.  We’re a TV-watching household.

  • So when Ida turned two, it came time to decide what role TV would play in her life.  I’m up to speed on the research, so I know that various sources say:
  • – Television isn’t good for anyone’s brain, especially young children
  • – A small amount of TV (under an hour/two hours per day) is okay, but less-than-perfect
  • – Baby Einstein will teach your toddler to poop in French and properly use an abacus
 
As with most of my parenting decisions, I took in all of this (very helpful as always, thanks internet) information, promptly discarded it, and got to thinking about Ida in particular.  I know that kid pretty well, and in thinking it over, I decided that it was important for television to be a moderate part of Ida’s life right now.  My thoughts as I came to this decision were as follows:
 
  • – Ida is interested in television.  
  • – I want to encourage Ida’s interests in healthy ways.  It’s up to me to teach her how to moderate her media consumption.
  • – I believe that most things in moderation are just fine – I find myself to be a very middle-of-the-road parent.
  • – Ida has stopped napping, so a short sedentary period during the day would benefit both of us.
  • – I really enjoy watching television, and I don’t find TV to be churning my brains into useless mush.  
  • – I believe that since TV will probably be part of Ida’s life, it would be best for her to learn how to consume it in healthy ways rather than total depravation followed by unlimited freedom once she’s out from under my quasi-watchful eye (insert Rumspringa story here).
 
So once I made the decision to let TV be a part of Ida’s life, I got to thinking about a couple pitfalls I wanted to avoid.  Namely, problems with content (i.e. what is she watching exactly?) and related problems with brain-mushing.  I found that I could circumvent the content problem (i.e. I don’t want my kid watching shows that are homophobic or pro-life, TWIST) by curating her viewing material.  It is 100% okay with me if she grows up believing rats can and should cook her dinner.  At this point, Ida doesn’t watch regular TV because I’m uncomfortable with the advertising component.  I found that I could eliminate my concerns regarding Ida’s being brain-mushed (I think that’s what the scientists call it) by providing her with a relatively short, focused period of time dedicated to television viewing rather than having it available all the time, distracting her from other things. 
 
Most of the time, I feel great about the resolution we’ve come to with television.  Ida, Nate and I all seem happy with the arrangement.  But every once in a while, I still feel a pang of guilt when I look over and see the glazed eyes of my bright, imaginative, and energetic kid as she lazes in front of the screen.  Why is it in parenting that I can know I’ve made the most sensible choice – the choice that I believe in – and still feel a little bit of anxiety that I’m not doing this quite right?  Do I really believe that it would be best for Ida to watch no TV at all?  Not really, but sometimes it’s just so easy to feel like even after really thinking it though, I’m taking some kind of short-cut here.  
 
But luckily, the kitchen timer dings, we turn off Ratatouille, and I watch as Ida resumes work on her village of blocks, lego people, and strangely, goldfish crackers in little lines – all meticulously arranged throughout the living room.  “This is a party and an installation and a big giant Chicago, Mama.”  Everything is just fine, just like I knew it would be.  We figured it out (again).    
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