Back when I was pregnant with dd, I spent quite a bit of time on the online discussion boards on BabyCenter. In one sense, this was a bad thing: too many hormonal pregnant women in any confined space (even if it’s online) is still a messload of hormones trapped, waiting to blow. In several other senses, it was a great thing: I got to meet a number of really fantastic women, some of whom I’ve had the good fortune to meet in real life. The women with whom I got along the best were the ones who respected and supported my choices, even when they weren’t 100% in step with their own. They understood that every parent has to choose what they feel is best for their own family.
One argument I recall from those online boards was the vehement opposition some moms had to baby formula. Some even likened it to rat poison, in their vitriolic rants about why it was breast or bust. Of course, formula isn’t rat poison. For some parents, formula is a necessary way to get through until the baby is old enough to be on solids 24/7. While many of them have slightly varying nutritionals, each one has to meet a minimum set of standards to be okay to distributed.
And then we get to TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy recommending no “screen time” for kids under the age of 2, based on the relationship identified between screen time and Body Mass Index (BMI). Medline provides more detailed recommendations about kids just over the age of 2, although there has to be a point at which their recommendations lose their freshness – probably by the time the kids hit their teens (at the latest). They don’t really give a cut-off for “kids”, so the harshest assumption is that they mean for readers to follow those guidelines through adolescence.
I definitely remember having a talk with dh before dd was born, discussing how we’d never be parents who let the TV raise our kids. And really, we do stick to that. So it’s funny that I’m writing this as I’m sitting in the den with ds, with “Cinderella” in the DVD player. There’s a part of me that gave in to the notion of letting the kiddos watch TV, potentially even on a daily basis, without freaking out. What we did to make sure that we could limit our own concerns, since we don’t want the kids to do what I did when I was younger (live on TV and become as sedentary as a turtle).
We bought some DVD’s and we strictly police the amount of time the kids can watch (usually 1 DVD or 1 show), whichever fits the time slot better. We also set up TiVo with season passes for PBS shows, like “Curious George”, “Dinosaur Train” and “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!” TV shows without ad breaks for things I don’t want them asking for – whether it be toys or unhealthy foods – just bother me something fierce. The joy of TiVo, especially with the power of ON DEMAND, is that there’s always something I can put on if they get a quick half-hour or a full-hour of time when we’re okay with them watching something.
Do I let the kid watch TV when I’m not in the room? Sure. If they’ve been good all through dinner and they’re ready for bed (in pajamas, teeth brushed, etc.), I’ll let them watch a half-hour show while I’m doing dishes. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I know the shows they put on because I put them on for them, and we don’t both queueing up things we have concerns about. Stuff with excess violence or ads automatically makes the “DO NOT SHOW” list, in our house.
Now, I know I can’t protect them from everything, but there are some things I don’t think are worth getting crazy about. TV, in limited quantities, provides them with an outlet to dream and to learn. Especially with the shows from PBS, there’s always some kind of educational message explicitly or subtly built into the delivery. Some of the other shows that the kids have taken to more recently come from Disney Jr. and were featured at a breakfast I attended at BlogHer ’12 – “Sofia the First” and “Doc McStuffins”. Watching these two on ON DEMAND reduces any potential for ads while still providing the kids with access to shows that have life lessons embedded in them.
At some point, I’m going to have to introduce them to the stuff that was my life blood when I was growing up, Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, Daffy Duck, and all the rest of the WB pantheon. I can’t imagine kids growing up without seeing all the silliness that involves anvils dropping on people’s heads with no real-world consequences.
And when it comes to movies, pretty much Disney is my go-to. The movies tend to be 2hrs or less (such as ds’ current favorite – “Cinderella”), and while each may have a scary moment, they aren’t typically violent or actually scary. Kids need to be given some measure of scare at some point, some challenge to that portion of their neural immune system, so they aren’t turned into complete fraidy cats later in life.
So sure, we limit their TV to typically no more than 1hr a day, 2hrs max (unless someone is sick, in which case all bets are off). And we limit what they can see by strictly controlling which shows are available to them. But we don’t keep them from TV, and I think that’s perfectly fine. It really isn’t rat poison, unless you let it be, and I don’t feel like any less of a responsible parent for letting them enjoy the fruits of someone else’s creative labors…with limits.