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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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Me Tube


He watched till his eyes were frozen wide,
And his bottom grew into his chair.
And his chin turned into a tuning dial,
And antennae grew out of his hair.


Shel Silverstein, Jimmy Jet and His TV Set,
Where the Sidewalk Ends



Sheryl of Paper Napkin—who seems to keep abreast of such things—pointed out today that TV-Turnoff Week is just around the corner. She asked readers about their family tv habits/policies and rather than hijack her comments page with my true confessions, I came back here to dump it all on you.

The truth is, my kids watch about a thousand per cent more television than I ever intended or wanted. When people wonder how I manage to work part-time at my paying job, work time and a half at managing house and home, and find any time to write, I tell them straight up, "my kids watch a lot of tv" (also, if they were to come over, they could see that the housekeeping suffers in the equation—hey, something's got to give, and it's not going to be the paycheck or the writing).

How much is a lot? When school is in session, it's not too bad, relatively speaking. Some of my friends who have managed to stick to their guns on the issue would probably find it appalling. Certain of my girlfriends who read this blog would argue that they manage to do all these things and work out at the gym besides without resorting to television. But they are from Australia, where natural selection seems to favor hypermania (case in point: Crocodile Hunter). To hell with them.

In our house, the tv goes on first thing when the boys get up. If we are on time waking up, they eat breakfast and get dressed in front of it. When Patrick picks up our nearly-three-year-old from preschool, it immediately goes on, until I get home at lunch, and depending on what's on my to-do list, will stay on for up to (gulp) a couple of more hours. When the big boys get home from school around four, I encourage them to go outside or play in their room, but if I am preoccupied, often as not, they will turn on the tube. You can count on it being on while I am cooking supper, and depending on how late it is when we get through, they might watch a little before bathtime. Weekends, all bets are off. If any of them are inside, the tv is probably on.

Okay, it is bad. If you are keeping a running tally of estimated viewing hours, don't tell me. I don't want to know.

In our defense, the children are generally not passive viewers. Unless they have just woken up, they are not sitting slack-jawed in front of the tube. They are playing, talking about the program, acting it out ("I'm Ash." "No, I'm Ash." "You're always Ash."), hollering out orders to the short order cook (me), and perpetually, unremittingly, incurably jumping on the furniture.

I also do my best to control content, although I am undermined in this by my husband, who grew up free-range viewing and doesn't seem to distinguish between Toon and Nickelodeon, with their smartass, slapstick, pottymouth asthetic, and PBS Kids. The chief difference is that the kids will get bored with the quasi-educational programming enough to eventually find something else to do, or to at least carry on a conversation, whereas Jimmy Neutron or Fairly Oddparents requires the entire bandwidth of their brains to download obnoxious slang for personal use.

Even the shows on the offending networks that I like—Spongebob, for one, and Avatar, for another—come bundled with offensive advertising. And although Patrick can make an eloquent argument that Avatar has thematic merit (one episode teaches the chakras), he has yet to persuade me that a Saturday SpongeBob marathon is not the video equivalent of eating Froot Loops straight from the box. Yummy, but ultimately devoid of nutritional value.

For years, we didn't have a tv. When our firstborn was still an infant, my father-in-law offered us one, and I remember it was a real moral dilemma, necessitating much earnest discussion. This was back in the day when I was making homemade, fruit-juice sweetened teething biscuits and was willing to homeschool and breastfeed through Grade 12, if necessary. Anything to keep this shiny new life unpolluted and pure.

Let's just say I got over that. Thank God.

As far as childrearing goes, I'd rather screw up consciously than unconsciously, so I can have a shot at damage control. I let go of the idea that I was going to get to do it all perfectly a long time ago. Now it is all about weighing risks and benefits, and as with most questions to do with personal values, I find there are rarely absolute answers. On the down side, my kids watch a lot of tv. More than I hoped. More than I like to admit. On the plus side, they are happy, healthy, active children. The tube buys me time and space to reflect and find perspective. It buys me time to cook a good supper and set a nice table. It spares them from the yelling that I also said I'd never do, but do, when they are unfocussed and idle and I am all spent. It buys me time to come here and record this wild, wonderful, impossible time of our lives and work out who I am under the rush and roar of it.

Turn it off for a week? I'd love to. Really. But I just can't afford it.

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14 Comments:

Blogger paper napkin said...

Ha! I thought of Jimmy Jet and His TV Set when I wrote my post too.

Also, we didn't have a TV for the first few years after Emily was born either. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

My kids watch too much too, but like I always say about my diet Coke habit, "there are worse things."

12:13 PM  
Blogger Hairline Fracture said...

Wow. Thank you. My daughter watches more TV than I would like her to, and I alternate between being racked with guilt and knowing that there is no other way I can get everything done (and a little peace and quiet to write is a necessity for me). This post makes me feel better about it. And I like papernapkin's observation that "there are worse things." A crazy yelling mother is certainly one of them.

1:00 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

i dare not comment other than to say we went for years without a tv...... you found lots to do and i dont think were deprived, it would be interesting to know the level of creativity ( if that could be measured) between children who watch a lot of tv and those who don't. i do believe reading has suffered because of tv, but you know i think i'd rather tv in small doses ie;not more than an hour at one sitting, than the game boys and play stations..........
and even the computer. i think there is a hypnotic trance that happens on any of these medium, and the viewer, player, user needs to be unplugged even by force if necessary. well, not physical force, other than turning off the machine. children need more physical activity.
whoops! i did comment.........

2:05 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

Hmmm. Moi aussi, and for the very same reasons. I have to lie - or at least carefully cover up - about how much TV my kids watch because here in Germany it is VERY STERNLY frowned upon. My reasoning is all my German friends have grannies to dump their kids on when they need a break, and I have no-one. The TV is my extended family, my village and it's doing a great job of raising my kids.

Thanks for provoking honesty!

3:08 PM  
Blogger Jen K-C said...

I was adamant that my children would never watch television or eat junk food but I relented a long time ago. I now encourage the eating of sugar while they watch tv. It is an electronic babysitter that I need to use for my own benefit. I have also been know to cut off all tv privileges as a form of punishment. The longest we went was a week. The threat alone causes behavior to change in my house. (I don't know if this is good or bad but it sure is effective!)

4:00 PM  
Blogger patsyrose said...

Too much T.V. robs the child (or adult)of a real life. Today's mothers are trying to do it all and it's impossible to be everything to everyone and still have anything left over for yourself. You just have to make choices and hope you've gotten your priorities straight. Good luck!

6:47 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

I write this comment as we watch a taped Wonderpets episode, after two back-to-back Sesame Streets.

It's 9am.

We're a tv family, no doubt about it. That said, my daughter can take it or leave it. She doesn't whine for it (yet) is happy to do other stuff when I turn it off...and I refuse to get a dvd for the car - I have to have some limits, right?

8:08 AM  
Blogger lia from luebeck, germany said...

Television, car, mobile phones, cigarettes… once you own them, you use them. I know there are people out there that always seem to effortlessly find the Golden Middle: they check the tv guide to find out what programs they want to view during the week (and do just that), they only use their cars on the weekends to the visit family living far away, they haven’t developed SMS thumbs (an evolutionary leap: having more dexterity in thumbs than in your index fingers), and they only smoke two cigarettes over a (that’s one) glass of wine during an evening out with the gals. Yes, there are people who conscientiously choose how they use these things. Then there are the rest of us; people who use these things randomly, ubiquitously, guiltily. I don’t have any of these things because I just do not want to deal with their all-pervasive influence in family and marriage life. Yet, we now have five computers (!) in our four-member household and struggle with the very issues we’ve avoided so long by not having a television. You just cannot run away from being honest and unsettled by the influence of these things in our lives. Might as well learn to enjoy the ride.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Jane said...

I have been reading your blog (found it through jenlemen) for awhile now and am fascinated with it, as I grew up (birth to age 18) where you live now, but have never lived there as an adult. The TV thing is a tricky one to balance, definitely, and it's something our family struggles with, too. We have a ten-year-old daughter who is in a Waldorf school (the Waldorf people are very anti-TV, anti-computer). She is a recent transplant to this school environment - she was in a Montessori school age 3 - 2nd grade. Anyhoo, I have been a teacher of preschool children for the past six years, and I can tell you that they are hugely affected by what they see on TV, how much of it they watch, and what they watch specifically. In my classes, I could point out the children who watched TV before school in the morning, kids who watched programs that were not age appropriate for them, and even kids who just watched a lot of TV. Now I'm an administrator at a preschool, and the saddest thing for me to see are kids who are unable to act out any dramatic play except plots of shows they've seen on television. On the playground, all they are able to play are reenactments of SpongeBob or Power Ranger episodes, and when they come inside, they dress up in the dramatic play center and act out those same plot lines. At lunchtime, they're telling those same episode stories to their friends and teachers, and even at circle time, while the class is literally watching butterflies emerge from cocoons, they're talking about how after school their mom is taking them to Target to pick up the next Disney Princess video. It's like the channel in their head is playing all TV, all the time. When they're little like this, they're just such sponges - and they'll soak up whatever is in their environment. So it's not about making us feel guilty as parents (Lord knows we get enough of that from the media and many other sources!) - but if we can make other experiences available to them besides TV to fill up all those little brain cells, it'll probably be better for them in the long run - as well as making their days richer here and now. Just my two cents (well, two dollars), fully unsolicited...

11:56 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Jane, I hear you.

I grew up with very little tv, so what I think of as a lot in our house, is still not as much as in others. Everything is relative.

There's no doubt if my boys were in danger of ignoring the cocoons and butterflies, I would have to find my moments of respite some other, more expensive or logistically challenging way than switching on Magic School Bus or Pokemon.

But my boys were in the backyard from school out to supper yesterday, painting and digging and discovering. So far, their sense of wonder, imagination and curiousity remains intact and expanding.

I know kids raised in highly technology restricted environments who have their own social/developmental issues that I think stem from an overly managed atmosphere. But I think each family's situation is so unique, it is best not to judge. Most of us are doing the best we can. As somebody pointed out, this is hard work, and the expectations are wildly unreasonable.

Thanks for weighing in! :)

12:15 PM  
Blogger peefer said...

My wife and I parent without the T.V.

And you know what?

It's really #&$#ing hard.

That is all.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I will post on my own blog about the t.v. issue, because it's a long and tumultuous journey - but here are two cents worth...

My daughter is an extrovert and I am an introvert. She does NOTHING by herself and insists I engage with her at all times. This drives me @&*ing insane as an introvert. The only time she sits quietly and contently alone is in front of the t.v.

And as a cherry on top, my husband travels a lot, so there is often no break for me.

So, to be a mom who does not unleash The Can of Whoopass, my daughter watches an hour of t.v. in the morning while I drink my coffee and take a shower. And if I'm feeling on the edge of insanity at any point in the day, I put on a show so I can have a moment to recharge my energy alone.

Some days they watch two hours, some days it's a free-for-all. I've learned to be okay with evaluating it as necessary rather than setting a rule.

But then again, I control what they watch through DVR recordings and movies - they never sit in front of random shows or commercials.

6:24 PM  
Blogger ErinOrtlund said...

I had to laugh at the fruit juice sweetened teething biscuits. I was like that with my first--I have a feeling the second one will not be getting that kind of thing!

4:09 PM  
Blogger el-e-e said...

Hello! I just found you through Juliloquy, and so glad I did! This post really, really spoke to me. I have TV issues, even though I'm trying to let them go. It was such a relief to read that your TV is on at the exact same (many) daily moments as mine, for the same reasons. Thankfully, my boy (2 and a half) is also still full of wonder and curiosity. Our favorite thing here lately is to turn over rocks and check for "wormies."

Thanks for posting this. :)

2:52 PM  

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