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Friday Family Movie Night: Babies and Screens

While it would be a stretch to say my kids' screentime is very limited, when my husband is away (in the military, he's currently serving the second of two one-year tours in Kuwait) the TV is usually off. The boys might watch a half-hour or hour on school days, and usually go on a Saturday morning Pokemon and Ben 10 jag if we're home. There's Friday night movie night -- which we'll skip on particularly exhausting weeks. Of course, I don't have a baby, but when Think Out Loud came on this Friday morning, discussing new AAP recommendations that parents with kids under two limit the TV to zero, I immediately thought back to my very different household when my boys were babies and toddlers; in a word, TV rich.

My husband grew up in a household where TV was on all the time, and his young adulthood, when he lived with his siblings, only reinforced this habit. It's hard to get the TV off in my house when he's around, and more so when the kids were younger and he had the (according to the AAP, highly mistaken) viewpoint that they wouldn't watch the TV if it wasn't meant for them. So, my boys grew up, likewise, to the sound of Law & Order and NCIS and other procedural dramas. I'm going to paraphrase the guest on TOL, University of Washington professor of medicine Dimitri Christakis: this is keeping us all from paying attention to our kids and interacting in the way babies need. "It holds your attention," he said, mentioning studies that show how hard it is for us to see anything else when the TV is on.

I had to laugh, a little, when another caller asked the question I was about to ask (as I washed dishes and listened to NPR instead of interacting with my own kids), is radio just as bad? How about NPR? Christakis kind of skirted that question, by emphasizing the difference between TV and music radio -- it's the visual part of TV that sucks us in.

What we get from this new recommendation is not much different in tone than the message in the SpongeBob study: when we're turning the TV on to get something done, it's not good for the kids. We should be interacting with them instead of setting them in front of the tube. Christakis said that he gets all the time, "but how am I supposed to make dinner if I don't turn on the TV?" His answer: parents for millennia have been making dinner without TV, and with current estimates on how much TV kids are actually watching -- it's four or five hours for many toddlers (a DAY, and I know there have been times when that has been the reality in my house, and it kills me to think of it) -- he asks, "how much of a break do parents need?" Kids this age are, after all, only awake for 10 or 12 hours a day.

On one hand, I agree with a friend on Facebook, who (and I know her son watches little TV, comparatively) took the radio program as opportunity to tell all the parents she knows that they're doing a great job and can just stop listening to the media criticism of the job they're doing (thank you!). On the other hand, I want to agree with Christakis. Really, I don't need that much of a break from my kids. And honestly -- they're fine without screens. They can occupy themselves for hours with sticks and a field of grass, or pinecones and fences to climb, or the room full of Hot Wheels and Thomas trains and dress-up clothes and stuffed animals. I get plenty of break (during which I can wash dishes, do laundry, and make dinner all I want. Yay!).

(Aside: When Monroe was a baby, TV wasn't an effective distractor for him. There was no such thing as TV giving me a break -- most of my cooking was done with him strapped to my back. It wasn't until he was older than two that TV had any benefit in the "break" realm. I know this is true for many parents of babies, and it always has me questioning these blanket criticisms of parents.)

But the times when we've made rules about screentime (including DS games and computer/iPod), it's not so much that the kids can't find any way to get by, but they feel cheated. Their friends all get to (fill in the blank)! And so, any temporary screen peace is overwhelmed by that feeling of deprivation. It's a cultural expectation, and the only way to get kids to be ok with it, is to change the culture (even temporarily; my kids have existing happily on camping trips without screens).

If I had to pick something -- if you held my feet to the fire and said, "make a policy recommendation," -- I'd go TV-light without much handwringing. I think it's best for the kids. On the other hand, I can't imagine foregoing it entirely; I like a couple of hours of engaging in a cinematic drama every two or three days. While I wish I had been one of those teetotalling parents while my kids were babies, I love the balance we have now: a bit of TV, when we need our brains to turn off for a while. This is how much break I need: about six or seven hours a week. How about you?


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We canceled our cable about 4 years ago, mainly for monetary reasons. My kids are 9, 7 and 3.5 y/o. We still take out TONS of DVDs from the library. My biggest objection to tv was the constant barrage of commercials, not necessarily the programming itself. Having no commercials has seriously cut down on the incessant requests for junky toys and foods my kids only heard about because of tv. (Now if I can figure out a way to cut down on the requests for legos...).

My kids probably watch about 2 hours of screens a day--about 30 minutes in the morning, after they've gotten ready for school (if they had gotten ready in a timely fashion), and the rest after school/before dinner. They tend to play legos while having the tv on in the background, so I'm not as concerned as if they were just drooling in front of the tv.

I tend to watch DVDs after the kids go to sleep, but I usually am knitting or doing other handiwork (folding laundry), so again, I don't feel guilty about my tv watching, because I am also getting something else accomplished.

The thing I dislike the most about not having tv, is that when I mention we don't have cable, people tend to get defensive about their own tv-viewing and/or they think I am self-righteous in my decision to not have cable.

People who watch more TV seem to be perfectly happy with their life balance and don't skimp out on doing 'other things'... but it would drive me batty. We have to limit ours to a certain amount for sanity. Otherwise, it is easy to come home from school and zombify then get wild later one. A certain set amount of time just keeps in manageable and balanced. Of course us parents just happen to also not watch very much, somewhat because we want to focus on other things and not just get sucked in and watch the time fly away.

Our tv has not been on for months. We have no cable, like Kate, for monetary reasons, but I don't miss it at all. But like Kate, we take our TONS of DVD's from the library and watch them on my laptop. I don't watch anything after my daughter goes to sleep, because who has time anymore, after catching up on blogs and checking facebook? But I do love a good hulu sitcom if my daughter is away for the day or night. Now that I don't watch tv anymore, I have no tolerance for commercials at all. I can't believe what a tv junkie I was before my daughter and during breast feeding. I actually thought that the Friends were my real friends! ;)

I used to be relatively strict about the TV when it was just my daughter. A half hour here or there. I think she maybe watched one hour total a week. Some weeks, nothing at all. There were days I felt so emotionally exhausted, though. My daughter needed a lot of engagement, stopped napping at age 2 and my house (and sanity) was falling apart.
After our son was born, I started letting her watch a little TV, just to keep her quiet long enough for me to get her little brother down for naps. Nowadays, she watches a half-hour each day (she's 3.5 now) at 5 p.m. so I can fix dinner. She can choose to watch a show I've DVRed for her (usually something from PBS or Nick Jr.) or do a game/video on the computer. This week, she's really into "Noah Comprende" and while I've never kidded myself into thinking of electronic media as anything more than a cheap babysitter, she's actually picking up some Spanish words from the show. Screen time is a privilege and on rough days it's taken away.
Baby bro has been exposed to some TV mainly because of his sister. And yes, in the early days of round-the-clock nursing, I would park myself in front of "House" reruns with him.
I admire families that are completely screen free, but I'm done feeling guilty about the moderate amount of TV we let our daughter watch and with few exceptions, I don't judge other parents for how much TV they let their child watch. I know so few people who live near family or can afford regular babysitters. If an hour of TV allows them the break they need to be good parents the other 11 hours of the day, then so be it.
We never have the TV turned to anything other than kid-friendly shows during the day except for The Olympics, the occasional college football game or when my KU Jayhawks are in the NCAA Tourney. Oh, and I did let my 1-year-old daughter watch Obama being sworn into office.

I have very fond memories of nursing and napping to Dr. Phil and Oprah during the day and all kinds of reality tv at night when my first was born. With his back to the tv, of course, because I knew it wasn't recommended for infants to watch! But now, we are in the minimal tv crowd. No cable, only online or rented stuff and maybe 20-30 minutes a day with the occasional family movie thrown in there. I won't pay for cable (they should pay me to watch all those ads, frankly) and we lost broadcast access after everything went digital and just haven't felt compelled to do anything about it. We have a little portable digital, but the reception is about the same as having nothing, so it doesn't see much use. After hours, hubby and I watch some, but not much.

it was a very conscious choice in the beginning to limit tv exposure for our kids and luckily we were both on the same page with it (mostly!). We hit a point when the oldest was about 6 months old that we just decided we were not going to have it on when he was around, partly because it was recommended to turn it off, but also because we knew we were more engaged without it. When he was older, 1.5-2 maybe, we started letting him watch a PBS show here and there and have left it at that, a show of some kind maybe once a day with a conscious turning it on and turning it off afterwards. I think now it's just how it is for them (they're 5 and 7) and they don't realize other kids might have more access. It doesn't seem to be as much of a conscious choice to limit anymore now as it is just habit that we don't watch much. Every now and then I think about turning something on, but then realize it would be for me, not them as they're busy doing something else, and that keeps me from turning it on. It's been kind of liberating to find time for other things, that's for sure.

We also cancelled our cable. We do watch shows and movies on our tv streamed through Netflix though. Like others, I just don't like the commercials.

My kids are limited, but they do watch some tv on most days. It's very rare that its ever on in the mornings, as my kids are pokey getting ready for school. It usually comes on during that half hour-hour before dinner. I have two younger kids, too, who are home from school early. I work at home, so I have to admit that often I allow them to watch a movie while I get a bit more work done before their older sib comes home from school. But, better to keep my job... You do what you have to do.

I go with the everything in moderation approach to parenting. Not only do I think "banning" things like TV, sweets, and other things can backfire, but I also think that completely shutting out TV causes kids to miss out on an important part of pop culture, and a common ground to connect with their friends. I don't use that as an excuse to let my kids watch hours upon end, but if homework is done, I don't see any harm in letting them enjoy some of these privileges.

I grew up without TV, back when missing pop culture was more of a big deal (I think) than it is now, because there were only 3 channels of it. However, looking back, the fact that I didn't know what "nanu-nanu" meant or who the Fonz was didn't really blight my childhood.

I suppose I could have gone the "forbidden fruit" route, (i.e. turned into a television junkie) as a result, but that didn't happen. I had a TV as a young adult for a few years, then ditched it. My husband didn't have one when we met. We knew we didn't want to raise our kids with it, but it wasn't a huge decision as much as simply a continuation of the way we already lived.

My kids haven't had a problem connecting with their friends, who bond not over television, but through the activities they have in common. It's always difficult to say that you don't have a TV without it being interpreted as a negative judgment of those who do. But I'm generally in the "whatever works for your family" camp. We do have a weekly movie night, though. (This week, North by Northwest!)

I grew up without a television as well. I still don't like it but we have one and my kids watch a limited amount and play xbox on it. I can't stand the sound of it in general but my kids enjoy a few shows and my husband likes cooking shows. My brother had the forbidden fruit response and when we were kids anytime a tv was on he would be transfixed even if it meant not playing with his friends. I think some of it is just temperment. I did sometimes miss out on knowing what was current but it seemed to affect my brother more since the boys seemed more prone to act out and play whatever was the big thing at the time. I think in some ways that's still the case.

When my son was little we made the decision to limit his TV time, but it turned out not to be a demanding choice because we both work outside the home FT and he went to daycare and now goes to school and aftercare until 5:00. My daughter goes to daycare until 4:30. At 5, we get home and my son does homework and I make dinner and entertain our toddler (my husband gets home at 5:30 or so) and then we eat dinner. By the time dinner is over, my son has to go to soccer practice or we have only about an hour of time with my kids before my daughter goes to bed. My son says up later, but we take turns reading to him or reading next to him. The week-ends tend to be filled with activities too, so it hasn't been so difficult to enforce the limited TV time with him or with ourselves. If I was a SAHM or a WAHM I suspect the TV or DVDs would have been on more often just so things could get done.

Honestly, I really enjoy TV---both the stupid and the intellectual. I also read a lot, so I just don't see it as an issue.

BTW, my cousin has a doctorate in sociology: one day I mentioned something about the typical opium fiend of 150 years ago being a middle class housewife. Not only didn't he know this, but he wanted to know where I had learned this.

"Discovery Channel", I replied.

We also find paleontology and evolution interesting, my daughter watched such shows with me from an early age. Consequently, she innately understood the concepts of Cladistics.

It's true that many mothers made dinner years ago without the tv on; but that was also in a world where kids would go out and play, in groups, from dawn until dusk. The world is different now; we are much less likely to send our kids outside unsupervised, for example. Instead, we have to come up with activities for them inside (or outside) the home. The problem might lie in that tv is taking the place of other things like running outside, also.
Like everything, tv can be positive and negative. Many kids' shows paint themselves as educational when they're not, but there are a lot of good ones out there. My son - and I when I was a child - learned a lot from sesame street for example.

I grew up without a TV as well. My husband had one when we met. I banished it to the 'man cave' in the basement as soon as we moved in together -- mostly because I don't like the way they look! This big monstrous black thing perched in the middle of all of our ancient inherited furniture, it just threw off the feng shui.
So, it is never on my radar. My kids never ask me to watch TV. But oddly, they do ask my husband when he is watching them. They have a hutch in the kitchen, that is full of crafty supplies. Whenever I get busy, I tell them they can play with their special art stuff. They get just as absorbed with the contents of the cupboard as they do with the TV.

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