Januray 13, 2012It's peanut butter jelly time!
My circles run pretty crunchy these days so it has been a somewhat lonely adventure, this tv thing. In fact I think I may know more people that do not own a tv than do. But I think many of my friends are curious, so I figured I'd share our experience with television.
I could write a pretty decent essay with awesome references to scientific studies. I went to school for that. I loved it! But there is no study being done on a family like mine, and even if there were, there are so many components to real life that just can't be accounted for. I'm slowly losing my faith in statistics. It's so crushing for a gal like me to realize the world does not fit into neat and tidy boxes. So I'm gonna just share my own personal journey.
I grew up religious and worried about guarding my heart and senses from worldly material, not because my mom forbid it but because my religion did. I outgrew that but nevertheless I also grew up not watching much tv or listening to music. I'd suck at trivial pursuit unless it was a Bible question. I miss all the references to Saved by the Bell. But given the option to have a tv I could care less if we didn't own one. As a teen my parents even put one in my room. All access any time. I rarely watched it. Once I moved out with my cousin we had two channels. I never missed it. So that's my background. I could easily take it or leave it. Actually I grew to love a quiet house and would prefer to leave it. If I were the only person in the house to contend with that is.
So when I married my husband. . .
Now, Nate, he LOVES tv. He told me once he'd rather eat rocks than cancel our cable. He was for real. So trying to protect my childred from the evils of television proved to be futile. And then I realized it wasn't so evil. I even wrote about it two years ago here
. But gosh darn, doesn't a good parent at least restrict things their kids aren't mature enough for?
And so for a few years I did have some limits. Nothing racy (only little kids stuff) and not too much a day. I was quick to blame the tv for bad behavior and frustrated at the thought my kid might prefer tv to that wonderful outdoor play. But it was around, and it wasn't completely corrupting my child.
And then came my venture into unschooling. Radical unschooling at that. And I figured it was time for an adventure. Eventually I lifted all restrictions on tv time. My four year old could watch whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Clarification: whenever Nate wasn't watching. And then, since Nate watches hours and hours of football on Sunday, I found a $10 tv on craigslist to put in his room so he could watch dvds of his favorite shows instead.
And I was worried. And a bit embarrassed when a friend might see that second tv in a child's bedroom. Scared I may be encouraging laziness and consumerism.
And for months we watched hours and hours of tv. We learned about super heroes. We watched every super hero show on cartoon network and the hub. I dvr'd things I thought he might like. I bought him books, costumes, and toys about super heroes. I played super hero games with him. And I sat next to him as we watched even more tv.
And then one day, as I listed the shows available, he became bored with tv. The next day it wasn't even turned on. The next day either. And we went outside per his request and played. Twice. Then finally it rained and we turned it on and he asked to watch Dino Dan instead. And after Dino Dan he wanted to play more. And play and play and play. And the next day, no tv again and just more requests to play. And our tv binge was finally over.
I don't think tv is done forever. We've learned that tv is fun, interesting, and incredibly inspirational. It's an awesome resource. I'm sure there will be another subject that we discover and I'll fill our DVR and Netflix que with tons more stuff. But for now he's full. He's satiated. Despite what others might think, a four year old is actually capable of "regulating" himself. Even during our highest tv watching days, there was still plenty of playing and doing, whether in front of the tv or not. When he's done, he doesn't take another bite.
So here are some myths and fears this experiement dispelled for me:
1. Children will only regurgitate shows in their play.
Maybe they will if they are limited to very few shows or movies. Children process through play. Sometimes a theme will show up that Vinny saw but it almost always morphes into his own scene. Transformers pair up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and GI Joes go to birthday parties and bad guys are frequently rehabilitated, often promising to not to do bad things anymore so they can be "friends."
2. It turns my child a zombie.
It may seem that way, if they are really focused or maybe tired but that's not a bad thing. When Vinny is captivated, it's because he is really interested. Occasionally he zones out but he's a pretty intense guy emotionally. He needs lots of downtime away from people and this is a pretty sweet situation where he can be mellow and still learn a bunch. Though he gets plenty of opportunities to sleep and relax so zoning out is rare.
3. It makes them violent.
On the contrary. Shows like Batman and GI Joes has not only introduced us to weapons but have provided ample material for conversations on ethics and appropriate situations and ways to use weapons both real and pretend. My son knows to always get an adult if he ever sees a gun and how to wield a foam sword without hitting anyone in the face.
4. It turns them into buyers.
When Vinny discovered commercials, he did want every single toy. And I even bought a few things that he requested. Even the crappy stuff. He quickly picked up that the ads often were different than real deal. He became a savvy consumer, recognizing a "cheap" item from one with better play value. He also learned to trust his mama's advice when I say, "that's a toy that will probably break or get boring quickly." And there has been a few times, I've been proven wrong. That a cheap crappy toy turns out to be totally worth buying because it's so fun! Did I mention he's also taught himself to fast forward through the commercials?
5. It causes naughty behavior.
I loved blaming bad behavior on tv. In hindsight it wasn't the tv. If Vinny acts up it's usually because he's tired or restless. As a growing boy he loves physicality above all else. If I don't find ways to incorporate than into rainy days home, he will. Sometimes his way of "excercising" involves couch jumping, or fighting his brother. A detour to jump together on our little indoor trampoline or a dance party are ALWAYs accepted. There is a good reason why. And it's not the tv's fault. If he were reading or painting or driving around in a carseat for hours a day, he'd still need to move. And as a kid who sometimes would forget to eat if he gets caught up in his playing, that's where my job as a mom kicks in. To take from his cues and help him meet his needs.
6. It's a bad influence.
My kids do pick up on slang and learn quite a bit about things I haven't introduced. For the most part it's things we don't often see in daily life, like surfing or tumble weeds. Sometimes I'll hear a word like "stupid" get tested. Why am I not worried about this? Because as his best source of reliable information he trusts me over the tv. I really am his biggest influence in life.
And when I'm no longer, I trust that he'll have a good foundation of having made plenty of choices with support. If I see something questionable arise either on screen or in person we discuss it. In the simplest terms I can. And if it's something gets too dark or racy, I'll tell him that it's meant for grown ups or teenagers or may be inappropriate for his age. He already knows that he doesn't like scary things or shows that get too emotional and has yet to protest. And if he did, I'd make sure to stay close and watch him watching. Keep a eye on what he's taking in. Does it seem like it's confusing him? Bothering him? And then we'd most likely find out in play.
7. It reduces creativity.
This one kills me. Anyone who knows Vinny or has read this blog can see that couldn't be farther from the truth. If anything it has promoted it.
I've already written a saga here but the next few bullets are imperative. My guidelines so to speak. Here is why I think our experiment was so successful. Enough to hand the remote over again.
1. We use common sense.
Vinny had free reign to choose shows but having some life experience I would disclose if I thought something might be too scary. He's quite sensitive to emotional stuff. Climaxes in movies are the worst. Toy Story 3 was quite the cry fest and he put a stop to movies for a solid year after. Even now I will encourage him to try a movie I think he'll love and pause or turn it at any time. So I would not tune into Friday the 13th and expect all to be well. I don't use the tv free zone to watch whatever I want. Housewives of Beverly Hills doesn't get turned on until after bedtime. I also have noticed he likes some of the older shows because they are less realistic (Adam West Batman anyone?), so I've helped him find some of those on dvds.
2. I watch with him.
Not every single show every time, but I am familiar with his shows and make a huge effort to watch shows he watches for the first time, as well as check in regularly so I know what's going on. If an idea enters our play, I like knowing where it might be coming from. But more importantly I use tv to connect with him. A thing we do with each other vs something I use to get things done. And I've found I genuinely enjoy many of his shows. In fact I'd go as far as saying it has given our whole family new ways to make connections with each other. Turns out Vinny loves 80's cartoons, the very same ones Nate did!
3. I actively create a rich home environment.
There are beaucoups of things to do here. From toys to crafts there is no shortage of possibilities. Not only does having a lot of toys and craft supplies make for impromptu nunchuck making, but also allows us to jump right into some rich play experience.
4. I'm aware of my own baggage with tv and keep it my own.
Like I shared before, I have my own story. I want Vinny to create his and to do it in a healthier way. I have a lot of influence and my disapproving attitude could have easily manifiested into something negative between him and I.
I love this quote:
As a child I was taught that fashion and all it entails was "wordly" and that Barbie stuff promoted low self esteem. Baloney! What promoted low self esteem was being told my interests weren't worthy.- Ren Allen
I really think this quote gets to the heart of what parents get wrong. My mom was always a super supportive lady but her subtle comments on a shirt she thought was too flashy because it had too many colors really impacted my future decisions. I don't think it was a coincidence that I spent many years in early adulthood buying monochromatic jackets and sweaters. Maybe I was just too sensitive but I'm taking that experiece to mean, my lack of trust, even in minor things, is a really big deal. And TV is no exception.
5. We stay home a lot.
My kids are little and need lots of downtime. Time to play and time to pursue interests. Time to be bored and time to veg. If we are going from activity to activity, they'd have to prioritize and it's possible that tv or video games would bump outdoor play or dramatic play down. I don't know how much that would matter but I do know right now we have plenty of time to do all of their favorite things. Perhaps when they are older they will choose to do these things and the balance will shift. And school would probably take away quite a bit of that precious time. But I'm getting way ahead of myself. . . Right now we ample of time to play, socialize and you guessed it, watch tv.
So in conclusion, I didn't start off as a tv person and even advocated to be a tv free family. But it never felt right, trying to take away something my child and husband loved. And I went with it. It has really worked out for us. And I don't think it would be so unique to my family. I'm not encouraging others to drop all limits but I do hope if tv is something rationed and controlled by the grown ups to at least think about why that is. I'm not saying that what worked for us would work for others or whether all my bullet points would transfer the same, but I am saying that it's something worth thinking about if you are talking to others about those "myths" as facts, especially without your own experiment. I certainly expected to be proven right and I turned out to be completely wrong.
I really do feel that patience, a lot of involvement and trust has paid off in a big way for my family. I think if I had been more controlling about tv I would have missed a major opportunity to get to know and connect with Vinny. And while there are plenty of other things to connect over, tv is one that has really counted.
Here are some excellent pro tv articles that inspired me to take the plunge:
This one is my all time favorite and has been super true for us
This one is a plethora of fun tv thoughts http://sandradodd.com/tv
And this one hits the core of the matter. The connection with out children. http://sandradodd.com/t/sharing
Joyce's site is similar to Sandra Dodd's but with a different flavor, all her tv stuff is on the left. http://joyfullyrejoycing.com/influencing%20kid%20behavior/tv%20and%20video%20games/argumentsagainsttv.html
This one is a bit off topic, touching on book worship but same general vicinity: http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/category/unschooling/
This one is another book one for shits and giggles, (for the record I LOVE books! Just ask Nate): http://www.theonion.com/articles/books-dont-take-you-anywhere,827/
And here are a few books on the top of my to be read pile, no review except it proves there are two sides to every argument with tons of scientific references: http://www.amazon.com/Everything-Bad-Good-You-Actually/dp/1573223077/ref=wl_it_dp_o_npd?ie=UTF8&coliid=IFQ26ZFHT6YGW&colid=24RAKP04BM9EP http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Monsters-Children-Make-Believe-Violence/dp/0465036961/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326426495&sr=1-1Vanessa is mom to four year old Vinny and 2 year old Rocky. She lives with her husband Nate outside of Boston in a magical yellow house. Since they made the decision to skip preschool she documents the time they spend learning through play so on her blog http://bonboneater.typepad.com/bon_bon_eater/
I happened to come across this blog post from a friend on Facebook the other day. Although it's much longer than posts I usually read, it resonated with me and my own evolution when it came to my kids' television viewing. I'll let what Vanessa wrote speak for itself! Enjoy!