For the past two years, we have avoided exposing our son to television. Sure during those early days when he wasn’t paying attention and he slept most of the day, we’d watch some television, but once he gained awareness of his surroundings, we turned the television off anytime he was awake. There have been a few times when we’ve all been sick when we tried to turn something on. I recall trying to get him to watch March of the Penguins with me sometime last year when we were ill. He made me turn it off. A couple of months ago, my wife tried to turn on an episode of Bob the Builder for him when she wasn’t feeling well. He wasn’t interested and pulled her out of the room to play with his tools. This past weekend, after BG discovered a love for both Cookie Monster and Grover through some books of his, we thought it would be fun to show him a little Sesame Street. He found it amusing for about thirty seconds, and then he wanted us to read his books instead.
I have to say that by and large, his responses to our few attempts at TV have made me proud. These were his parents’ slips, our desire to be a little lazy, and his brain said no. He showed us he wanted interaction with us, with real things, and his rejection of television was just fine with us. We haven’t wanted a child who sits in front of the television, zoned out, and we knew the effects it could potentially have on so many aspects of his development, so the fact that he hasn’t been interested has been really quite wonderful.
But yesterday, BG was requesting to hear the song “Bumblebee” by Laurie Berkner. We just have it on an MP3 player, and the player needed to be charged, so we had no access to his song. My wife decided she could quickly pull it up on YouTube. She found a video and started it up on her computer as BG sat on the bed. He was instantly mesmerized. He wanted it again. We played him several other videos of his favorite songs before we called it quits. And then later that day he asked for it again. This morning, he wanted to watch it while we were getting ready to leave. And then when he woke up from his nap, he started begging to see it again. After just one day of exposure to visual media that interested him, BG became hooked.
What surprised us, and frightened us, really, is what happened to our son while he watched. Our normally active, wiggly, chatty boy went slack-jawed and limp. He watched without moving his head, without moving a single muscle in his body. He became utterly passive. This is something we’ve never seen him do, and it was a state with which J and I were very uncomfortable.
But this is what television does to all of us, isn’t it? It’s an escape from everything, a time to be passive, to let something else do the work of entertaining and thinking and getting our synapses to fire. I totally get the allure of television for parents of toddlers. I saw instantly the time it bought my wife and I. We were able to get ready for church this morning without BG under foot. I ironed some pants right in front of him, and he’s terrified of the iron, but he didn’t even mention it. I dried my hair with the hair dryer, and he usually is right there ordering me to turn it off, but instead, he sat there, glazed over, watching these little videos. If we let our son watch television, I can see that he would snuggle up with us, relaxed, and just sit and watch. I can see that we could get ready to go places with little trouble. I see that it would probably buy me some time to get work done.
But I can’t risk it. Because of the standards J and I have set for ourselves as parents, this feels a whole lot like cheating–like we’re somehow slacking on our parenting duties. It also feels like we’re cheating BG. Normally when we’re getting ready to go somewhere, one of us interacts with him while the other gets ready, or he plays in his room, or we have him “help” us. These are all enriching activities. They are teaching him so many different lessons.
Today, J and I reminded ourselves why we made that commitment to no television we made so long ago. In the long run (and the short term too), we know it’s absolutely the right thing for our family. We don’t judge others for showing their kids television–not at all. Much like our commitment to feed our child healthy foods, it’s just what is right for him. We know that eventually, he will be exposed plenty to television and movies and sugary snacks, but for now, while his brain and body are so vulnerable to all these new things, we choose to protect him a little longer. Closing Pandora’s Box is never an easy task. We may well have released something that can never go back.