There’s a lot of discussion among moms on screen time. Countless blogs, articles, research studies and playground talk focuses on the evils of too much TV for kids (and of course now tablets, laptops and cell phones enter the equation too as additional screens). But I for one don’t buy it when it comes to TV. I think it’s all about the who/what/where/when/how of the experience.
See, we’re die hard TV lovers in our house. We have a high capacity multi-room DVR. The TV in our living room feels like a small theater. We designed our bedroom closet system to leave room for a wall mounted TV between the closet doors. We watched a ton of TV before our kids were born, and when we decided to put a built in wall-to-wall cabinet system in the kid’s playroom, we left space for a large wall mount TV there too.
We have a set of operating rules for our TV consumption, so it’s not as if it’s on 24 hours a day. Here’s how we do it in our house:
- TV should only be used as a “babysitter” sparingly. Firstly, our kids, especially Luca (who is turning two next week) can’t really be left alone in a room. If Julia (who is 5) is in the room with him, TV can buy us a few minutes at a time to do things like set the table for breakfast, wash dishes, or put the laundry in without having them underfoot and/or whining. In the morning we have it on for the kids in our room while we get ready for work. They stay in bed instead of getting underfoot making demands in the short time frame we have in the morning. It makes life so much easier and eases their transition into the day from their early wake up time.
- Don’t watch TV in place of being outside. Our TV consumption goes up a lot in the winter between activities and playdates because it is too cold to go out in the backyard or to the playground. But when the weather is nice, there’s no reason to be indoors so much staring at a screen.
- If we hate a show, the kids don’t watch it. I’ve heard people complain over the years about everything from Barney to Caillou and resent that their kids love it (we don’t mind Caillou but apparently he really drives some people crazy). Our strategy is that once we’ve seen a show a few times and know we can’t stand it, we don’t really encourage watching it. Since we’re with our kids most of the time that they are watching TV, why do we need to suffer through Max & Ruby (I HATE Ruby) when we could watch Sofia the First or Peppa Pig, which I genuinely enjoy and think have good lessons.
- Focus on TV that encourages interaction/activity. Julia loves a weird Australian kids’ show called Hi-5 that she found on Netflix. There is a lot of singing and dancing on the show, and Julia will often sing and dance with the show instead of watching it from the couch, which I much prefer. We also put on YouTube sometimes and dance together to videos.
- Watch shows that teach them things. Right now as I type this we’re watching an episode of Sofia the First that is teaching it’s OK for girls to like activities traditionally reserved for boys and vice versa. This little boy was embarrassed that he liked ice dancing, but Sofia helped him accept it was OK to want to be on the ice dancing team instead of play hockey and encouraged him to tell his dad, who was a little old fashioned. When Julia was little we were all obsessed with these “Classical Baby” DVDs – there was one for art, one for poems, and one for classical music. I recently took Julia to her cousin Allison’s orchestra concert and she loved it. I’d like to think it’s because she has a familiarity with classical music from watching those DVDs as a toddler.
Like anything as a parent, the decisions that work for your family don’t work for every family. I’m ok with my kids watching a few hours of TV a day, as long as they aren’t passive zombies, because selfishly I enjoy watching them too. Peppa Pig is my jam, I could watch her all day. But I know people who don’t let their kids watch TV at all or only a teeny tiny bit, so I will end with one of my key Mom Tips: You do you. For us, that means embracing our love for TV and sharing it with our kids.