pandora’s box

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.



Filed under Boy Genius, media

7 responses to “pandora’s box

  1. T

    “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.”

    AHAHAHAHA. “We don’t judge others for showing their kids television-much like our commitment to not poison our child, give him clean water, and not beat him with a metal rod, it’s just what is right for him.”

    You are judging with the power of a thousand mama-suns. Own it. It’s okay. New parents do, especially new parents of your (our) demographic. Just don’t even bother to claim that you’re not judging.

    If you really want to be (or appear to be) non-judgmental, then you’ll have to admit that the subset of food that you call “healthy food” is not universally accepted as so. And mayyyyybe there’s a chance, a tiny chance, that other people are right and you are wrong.

    Or that your assessment that Elmo will turn your child into a slack-jawed media-bot is, potentially, incorrect. I mean, maybe it will, maybe your kid is particularly vulnerable or something, maybe it doesn’t suit his learning style or whatever. But maybe not. That’s what not judging is about: humility, and recognition that we just don’t know what choices are optimal, so all we can do is make the best choices we see for ourselves, and recognize that others are doing the same.

  2. c storm

    Oh, this is such an issue in our house. I encourage you to stand by no TV for as long as humanly possible. We don’t do cable and the adults’ watching of Netflix videos is an adult activity, carried out, like most adult activities, after the kids are in bed. My eldest is a huge reader, who began college at fourteen, and she came by it naturally. But I’m most impressed by our adopted middle daughter, who came to us in foster care at age six. She was assumed to be cognitively delayed and we were told she might never read. Well…four years later she is a huge reader and is in the top reading group in her class. I really attribute this to no TV…when there is no TV around, mine pick up books. As I type this she is reading aloud to our toddler…music to my ears. Every once in awhile we let them watch TV, but it is seriously only once a month or so.

    I also parent according to a theory I call Benevolent Boredom. I don’t think there’s anything in the world wrong with letting a kiddo be bored…it is out of boredom that mine have become such skilled players. And yes, playing is a skill, an acquired (and critical) skill. We have a little girl newly placed with us in foster care right now, age nine. I’m seeing this all over again: she doesn’t know how to play. It will take months for her to learn, but her cognitive skills will rise in direct proportion to her play skills. I’ve seen this again and again.

  3. Of course you have to do what you think is right for BG, but the “zombie effect” is probably due to novelty. Once he sees TV a few more times it’ll probably pass into a more appropriate and balanced place in BG’s mind.

    We don’t have television, but we do have a DVD player and have no problem with using it thoughtfully and in reasonable quantities! The only time our little guy stares motionless at the television is when he’s really, really tired — otherwise he’s usually interacting in some way. We especially like music and dancing DVDs; he loves to dance around the room, and often wants us to dance too (we oblige, of course). Some of the DVDs we choose aren’t *strictly* educational, but I refuse to believe that my 2-yr old’s MAD TAPDANCING SKILLZ will be anything but a benefit to him in his future life!

    In short, I don’t believe it’s a fair analogy to equate choosing “healthy food” and “no television”. Electronic media is part of our culture (his mama and I are both huge media nerds, so we don’t expect him to be any different). We choose his media consumption the same way we choose his food: thoughtfully, with moderation, and very occasionally, in emergencies, for convenience. I feel fine about that. And without getting too braggy, our little guy is not lagging developmentally, despite our media-positive parenting. 😀

  4. I have no witty thoughts. But I’ve been singing Bumblebee all day since I read this earlier this morning. Also, I showed the turtles some LB videos on youtube and they loved them!

  5. Jen

    We are somewhat in the middle. Chunk has exposure to television, mainly though videos like “A Day at the San Diego Zoo” by Baby Genius. He loves watching his zoo animals but he constantly runs around playing while it is in the background. I think like everything, moderation and balance is important. I think music and educational videos can be good and not like having a toddler watch an episode of COPS. 😉

  6. We are also on the strict ‘no TV’ policy. The few times we have turned it on (they are sick and stir crazy) it doesn’t even hold their attention for longer than 5-10 minutes.
    I know it would make my life easier to have it on sometimes while I do other things–but I agree with you, they have the rest of their lives to get addicted to media and sugar! Let’s keep it simple right now.

    BTW–thanks for the muffin recipe! I have to try that. My boys are living on zucchini and carrot muffins right now, oh and smoothies!

  7. When we have kids, we plan on prohibiting TV and feeding them as healthy as possible. And to the douchcanoe who kinda-sorta bit your head off in that first comment, I say whatevs. I don’t think you’re judging at ALL. There are things that I do in my life that I think are healthier and my family and fiancee’s family literally make fun of me for it. But I don’t judge them for what they do because it is irrelevant to me. Their life is not mine and I don’t have to pay the consequences for their decisions…

    This is YOUR child and it is YOUR obligation to do whatever YOU think is best for him. So if that means turning off the TV and buying organic, so be it.

    I think you’re awesome.

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