Category Archives: media

parenting: it’s personal

My wife and I were just having a conversation about parenting–this was before I saw the responses to my last post about television. We were agreeing that nothing in the world does a better job at showing one’s values and who one is as a person than parenting choices. This is why, we postulated, that when parents discuss their own choices, people who have taken different paths are so inclined to become defensive about their own choices. Those decisions are so utterly personal that any potential of someone else attacking or disapproving of them seems either threatening or condescending or is otherwise unwanted.

In my post about television, I was talking specifically about one child (mine) and two parents (my wife and I). For our family, a family who does not watch much television (although my wife and I enjoy it plenty after our kid is in bed), TV is not a necessity. My wife and I spent a good amount of time working in media reform, studying western media and its effects on children. We’re academics, and all of our choices about our parenting stem from research, observation, and finally our own values. We are choosing to limit our son’s access to visual media until he has stronger reasoning skills, until he has the ability to process it without simply taking it in as another reality, until he can question what he is seeing. There is nothing wrong with this. Fortunately, we live in a community that supports similar choices. Unfortunately, we live in a larger society where no TV generally equals freak. What can I say?

But when I say I’m not judging others, I’m not. My sister shows her daughter a fair amount of TV. She’s a very spirited three-year-old, and my sister is a single mom. Showing her daughter educational videos has been necessary at times. I’ve turned television on for my niece at my house because for her, it works fine. But when we saw what this did to our son (who was actually well-rested when he watched), my wife and I didn’t like it. Shouldn’t that be enough? We didn’t like how our son behaved when he watched television, and we didn’t like the constant begging for it every five minutes after showing him. We didn’t like it when his books and toys were suddenly not enough. Nothing else had ever done this to our son. That’s a pretty powerful force, and in our opinion as his parents, this is not something to be taken lightly.

When I equate this to our choices to feed our son what we consider “healthy” food, I am doing so because this is yet another very personal parenting choice based on our research, observations, and values. We have seen what happens when people with my genetics eat foods that are overly processed and high in refined sugars. They become morbidly obese–every last one of them. We would like to avoid that in our child. This is our personal parenting decision. We don’t like how our son’s personality responds to sugar, nor do we like how his body responds to low-nutrient, low-quality food, so we aim to feed him real, wholesome foods as much as we can, much as we aim to make the media he consumes as high quality as we can, and, at present, in the form of print and music.

As parents, we are charged with the task of determining what our kids consume, from the food they eat, to the media they view/hear, to the toys they play with, to the social circles they engage in. It would be so nice if we could be supportive of the choices other parents make, but that’s sadly not the culture we live in. If there is anything I’m judging about parents, it’s that. I’m so tired of mothers looking one another up and down and searching for something to be cruel about. It’s hard enough being a parent, but to be a parent in today’s hostile mother culture, where we see this beautiful role as something to compete over, is just really beyond me. So yes, I judge the hell out of that.

But show your kid TV or not, feed your kid sugar or not, let your kid play with his food or not–these are your choices, with your very own reasons behind them, just as ours are ours. There is no need to get the two confused.


Filed under food, media, parenting

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