Sunday, September 18, 2005

Should writers use TV for their toddlers?

It seems to me that one of the biggest questions on most work-at-home moms' minds is 1) whether to let our children watch TV. And 2) if yes, how much to let them watch. I think these questions are even more profound to those of us who write for a living. After all, if your child is watching TV, he's not reading. Are we risking our own livelihoods here?

When I was pregnant, I was firmly resolved that my son would watch no more than one hour of educational TV per day, that I would watch with him, and that I would much rather let him see me read than watch. That more or less worked out for his first year. I did watch TV sometimes when nursing, but we don't get cable, and the only things available were children's programming (why subject yourself when you don't yet have to?), talk shows, and soap operas. Quickly finding that melodrama and molasses-slow story arcs were bad for writing, I did let him see me reading while I nursed him. Sometimes even writing, when my right hand was free.

These days, though, he's a lot more active than he was then. I've found myself turning to TV as a way to get a break, if not to get some work done. Watching with him? Rarely. I worry that part of the problem is my lack of ability to figure out fun activities from day to day, as well as the sheer amount of energy he has (the kid will not sit still unless it's in front of the TV, or being read to - but the point is for me to get a break, too).

Is it bad? I can't tell. He can sit still for 3-5 stories per night, which often include two readings of The Polar Express, so I can't see that the attention span is suffering. We stick to educational programming and Disney cartoons (Bambi is the current favorite; we fast-forward past the scary parts). No anime and nothing we personally can't stand (includes Lazytown, Boohbah, Teletubbies, and Barney). Only for 2-3 hours per day, alternated with some kind of physical activity. 2-3 hours is the amount of time he used to nap. So although I feel marginally guilty about not being a more entertaining mother, I can't help relishing the work time.

That's why I'm trying not to think about the long term. The fact is, he sees both of us reading, writing, and watching TV; I think it's as important for him to see me working as it is for me to play with and read to him. Later on will come school and extracurricular activities and friends, all with their own issues. What we as parents need to remember is that science and statistics can't possibly account for all the variables in a child's life; "studies show" is about averages, not individuals.

No, TV shouldn't be a crutch or an excuse for us play-impaired parents not to try to entertain our kids. But it can be a valuable tool. Our job is to give it the right balance - just like we do with every other tool in our lives. It's as much about instilling good habits in ourselves as it is about instilling them in our kids.


Blogger Meg said...

For what it's worth -- you used to watch two hours of TV every day, beginning at age 2, by yourself. The programs were the ubiquitous Sesame Street, the Electric Company (which I loved, even though the pace was best described as "frenetic") and Mr. Rogers. By first grade, you were reading Nancy Drew; by fourth grade, you were into Agatha Christie.

We all want what's best for our own kids. The hard part is when idealism runs smack into reality, and the reality is -- you need time to yourself before your brain becomes a total squash. None of the Studies Show that!!

Oh, about not watching anything you personally can't stand: That's why we never allowed Dr. Seuss into the house. You have to live with the monsters you create! Also, how do you expect a kid to develop taste when he's surrounded by tastelessness all day long?! That's a rhetorical question, but I think it's plain wrong to force yourself to eat brain candy. If it's bad for you, it's bad for the kid. If it rots your brain, it'll rot his. You're doing great, Mom.

18/9/05 3:23 PM  

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