Sometime during the past football season, Kiddo discovered the TV. It was bound to happen; my husband and I are regular TV-watchers, and to cut it out of our lives completely wouldn’t have been realistic for us. We did make some changes to our habits so that we were watching it less while Kiddo was awake, but from September through January, our Sundays are usually spent watching men in tight pants crash into each other chasing a funky-shaped ball. And on one of those Sunday afternoons, Kiddo pointed to it and announced “Dee!” The age of innocence was over.
It’s commonly claimed in online parenting forums that the American Academy of Pediatrics says children younger than 2 shouldn’t have any screen time at all, be it television, computers, or video games. I looked up the exact recommendations, and found the following:
“In early care and education settings, media (television [TV], video, and DVD) viewing and computer use should not be permitted for children younger than two years.” (from page 58 of the Preventing Childhood Obesity in Early Care and Education PDF)
“Pediatricians should recommend the following guidelines for parents: […] Discourage television viewing for children younger than 2 years, and encourage more interactive activities that will promote proper brain development, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together.” (from the AAP’s 2007 policy statement on Children, Adolescents and Television)
In other words, daycares and preschools shouldn’t be letting the infants and toddlers watch TV or computer screens; parents should try to find other activities when possible. But I did feel a little better knowing that the recommendation wasn’t that screen time must be avoided completely at home. We’re stumbling enough already in this parenting gig.
Actually, considering how much time my husband and I used to spend in front of the television, I’m pleasantly surprised at how little screen exposure Kiddo actually gets. He’ll ask us to turn it on, but then he doesn’t pay much attention to it. While he will occasionally look at it for a bit to point out cars and dog, he doesn’t drop everything else he’s doing to watch it. The only time he’s seen popular kids’ shows like Yo Gabba Gabba was when we visited his older cousins last Thanksgiving. He’s started to recognize characters like Elmo and Mickey Mouse, but he knows them as toys and t-shirt decorations rather than TV characters. Let me be clear, none of this was from any intentional plan to keep his TV time at a minimum. I suspect that if I were a stay-at-home mom, Cailou and Wubbzy would be a regular part of the day.
Back in our pre-kid years, my husband and I would usually eat dinner in the TV room in front of whatever we’d DVR’d recently. We could usually make it through three or four hour-long programs. Usually we’d be multitasking, running laundry during the breaks or working on computer tasks while keeping one eye on the big screen. These days, the three of us usually eat together at the kitchen table with the TV off. After dinner, we play with Kiddo or read stories until it’s time for him to go to bed. Usually it’s not until after he’s down for the night that we manage to squeeze in one or two shows, much less than we watched together a few years back. But we’re busy enough now that if I tried to watch more than that, I’d be viewing them from behind closed eyelids.
The shows that husband and I watch together are mostly reality shows with a few dramas and comedies mixed in: The Amazing Race, Survivor, Top Chef, American Idol, Castle, How I Met Your Mother, Hawaii 5-0, Glee. We record Burn Notice, CSI, and reruns of NCIS as well, but often end up holding on to them for weeks and watching them when our regular shows are airing re-runs. Around Christmastime we add The Sing-Off, and during the summer we record Big Brother and the Tour de France. I have hazy memories of the first couple weeks after Kiddo was born, sitting up with him watching cycling live as it aired during the pre-dawn hours.
It probably won’t be long until we start recording Sesame Street and other kid-directed programs. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being able to enjoy a show together, and I have warm memories of weekly Popcorn Nights growing up, when the whole family would get together to watch Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas on Friday night. Television is just a device. It’s up to us to be parents, and to be wise about how we use it as a family.