Parenting: TV, the evil box?

October 21, 2010

Really? I mean, none at all?

I can understand no dropping your child in the family room for an hour and a half while you catch a work out or do the laundry, but what about 15 or 20 minutes while you make their dinner? Or take a shower? In my opinion it is simply unrealistic to set a rule that there is NO TV. Unless, of course, you've got a household staff of 5 taking care of everything that needs to be done. There should, of course, be limits on TV - both on how much time kids spend watching it to what kind of programming they are watching. I really believe children are capable of growing up to be intelligent, articulate, and active children while co-existing with the television. Any parent who claims they don't let their children watch TV - I think may have a fib or two in them.

So how do you integrate TV into your child's life without turning them into zombies or couch potatoes? Like everything else in parenting, it's all about balance. I don't have children over the age of 1 so I can't speak to appropriate limits for older kids, but here's my approach with Sienna. She is only allowed to watch TV once a day. I really stick to that unless there's some unforeseen emergency. It's on me to figure out an alternative to the TV if I have multiple things to do which aren't child-friendly. I usually try to reserve the TV for when I cook dinner for her. As far as other household responsibilities go, they're much easier to include Sienna. For example, if I have to sweep the kitchen floor I usually let her "help" me by pushing the broom or vacuum a few times. Does it take longer? Of course, but everything takes longer when you have a one year old. Even when I do laundry, I use it as a half hour to teach her how to put things away. She's really caught on and I do believe it's helped with her listening and understanding.

Dinner is different. I don't want her near the stove and I certainly can't hold her while I'm cutting vegetables or handling raw food. So for the 15 to 20 minutes it takes me to get her dinner ready, I allow her to watch Sesame Street. To be honest, it's really the only show she's interested in. I've tried to introduce some other educational programming but she seems to have formed a strong attachment to Elmo and Baby Bear.

I also established some rules---No TV while she's eating or while she's in the highchair. TV time is TV time, meal time is meal time and play time is play time. Also, after she watches her 15 or 20 minutes, I make sure to do something active with her immediately after the TV is off or after she eats her dinner. By active I don't necessarily mean running around at the park---playing with blocks or reading books is exercise for the mind. I try to avoid having her play with electronic toys. I believe this helps counter balance the creative juices watching TV might stifle.

Finally, I try to have 2 or 3 days a week where the TV stays off. That may be good advice for parents whose version of an Elmo fix is their BlackBerry or iPhone. Aside from that, I try to relax. If your toddler watches TV for 25 minutes instead of 15 or sees occasionally watches a cartoon instead of Baby Einstein…everything will be ok. I'm convinced kids are pretty resilient.

Good luck!

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