In Theory

In Theory

In theory, I agree with all the American Pediatrician’s Association’s guidelines that television should be limited to no more than two hours a day for children over four, and that it should be nonexistent in children under two. In theory I agree that television, and other screens for that matter, make for obesity in children, stymie their imaginations, and limit opportunities for social interactions. In theory. But in reality, (my reality anyway) the television and I have a symbiotic relationship. We cannot survive without one another. True, if it weren’t for my three children the boob tube would rarely be turned on. I tune in only a few times a week to watch the two or three shows that I find entertaining. And, thanks to TiVo, weeks can go by without my trigger finger pressing the on button.

But, for the last eight years, it is more than just me I have to think about. It is the well-being of my most cherished gifts Julia, Jonah, and Jesse.And Julia, Jonah and Jesse have to eat. And in order to eat, “Hannah Montana” or “Zach and Cody” need to light up the little screen so I can prepare a meal. I am not of the multi-taskers, so holding the baby in one arm while chopping up carrots with a large kitchen knife in my free hand won’t work. I am sure the APA would recommend setting my kids up with a puzzle (they hate puzzles) or an art project (then I have a dual clean up) while I cook. Good ideas, but they result in more work for Mommy, which is not something I need at 6 PM at night with bedtimes and school lunches, e-mails and homework to contend with after the dishes are put away.

And while “Hannah Montana” and “Zach and Cody” keep my older children nourished, Diego keeps my toddler alive. That’s right; he is not only an animal rescuer, but a baby rescuer as well. In fact, Diego is the first word I hear upon entering Jesse’s room at 5:30 or 6 AM each day. (Well that and chocolate milk) And so, Jesse and I head downstairs, fill a sippy with chocolate milk and sink into the couch to watch the baby jaguar reunite with his mother. Diego buys me another half an hour of snoozing, the sounds of “click, take a pic…” echoing through my mind as I drift into a half sleep. Of course, Jesse and his mother should enjoy each other’s company at this quiet hour of the morning, before his siblings require my attention to get them ready for school. But Jesse does not need to feel the wrath of my crankiness, forced to function before the sun is up.

Then there are the times when I loathe the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Take now, for instance. The older kids have been up for three hours. They haven’t asked for breakfast, and they haven’t spoken a word to either my husband or me. They sit, staring at the screen, oblivious to the fact that the day is passing them by. Don’t they want to play a game? Practice violin? Go outside to ride their bikes? I am creating children who don’t know what it is to entertain themselves or each other.

And the horror of hearing my toddler point to a teenage girl and say “I Carly.” He didn’t know who Elmo was until six months ago, but he can identify a tween icon. And what kind of trauma did I cause when he woke up screaming the other night about a certain map of Dora the Explorer’s who was chasing him around the house? Equally horrifying was a recent trip to the supermarket when my five year old barreled out of the store with an unopened bottle of soda.

“What are you doing, Jonah?”

“Shoplifting!” was his reply.

Am I happy that my five year old has such a good vocabulary, or terrified that the Bedford police could pull up at any moment, ask for my booster seat and haul my boy into the precinct? Julia, my eight year old, interrupted the scene playing out in my mind.

“Uh… sorry mom, that is my fault. We were watching a cartoon where the kid shoplifted something. I should have told you, so that Jonah could have left the room.”

Deep sigh. “It’s not your fault, it’s mine, Julia. I should have been aware that you were watching a show that was inappropriate for Jonah.”

I am not so naïve as to think that any cartoon is okay for my five year old to watch. It’s just that I am often too busy to peek in and see what it is they are watching. If I hear the familiar voice of Miley Cyrus, or the unmistakable sounds of a cartoon crooning from the television, I go about my business, happy that they are not watching rockets explode on CNN, or half naked bodies intertwined on “Gossip Girl.” And, I know the television is “sibling bonding time.” They want to watch together, much the way my sister and I used to spend 5-6 PM watching Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch so my mother could cook dinner. But the “Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island” are bygones, relics of a cleaner, simpler time, when children’s programming didn’t have such an edge. Recently, they have added the new “Electric Company” to their repertoire, which is in my opinion, completely guilt free TV. However, it is only on once a week, which makes my Friday evening dinner preparation very easy, but leaves me in the lurch the rest of the week.

So, Sunday through Thursday, my children have to compromise. If they want to watch together, they have to settle for “Hannah Montana,” “Corey in the House,” or “Zach and Cody” (admittedly not the ideal choice for Jonah, but better than “Sponge Bob” or “Fairly Odd Parents”). And while these conversations often prompt arguments between the two older kids, I have never seen either one stomp off in frustration and refuse to watch the chosen program. I console myself with the thought that their negotiation skills can only benefit them later on in life. Some day, in the distant future when “Hannah Montana” is only in re-runs, and there is no one bickering while I prepare dinner, I will thank the boob tube for my children’s social skills. There are no other kids so adept at art of compromise!

Published in: on May 2, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Ahhh, the great boob-tube debate goes on.

    Back in the day I appreciated the time “Arthur”, “Sesame St.”, and “Clifford the Big Red Dog” afforded me to prep breakfasts before pre-k. It all came back when my 13 and 16 year old daughters reminisced about those shows and how much they liked watching them.

    Those shows led us to books, games, visits to Sesame Place and F.A.O Schwarz when Arthur and Clifford would visit like rock stars for the U-4 crowd.

    No damage was done; both girls are doing well in school and on the sports fields 🙂 All good!

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