Yes, I meant “awesome,” not “awful.”
It’s no secret my kids watch television. A lot of television. So much television that Jane’s first break up with a t.v. character was at the dear age of 2 (the age she could supposedly start watching television), when she defiantly raised her hand and said, “No! I don’t like Elmo!” This came as a huge surprise to me since she had been best friends with the furry red guy since she was 4 months old and had memorized most of Elmo’s Adventures in Grouchland by 18 months.
I was actually saddened by their break up since I had grown to love him just a little and he had become such a part of our household. Jane learned about pets, sports, putting on her clothes, being a doctor, music, dancing and so many important things from Elmo. I didn’t understand how their relationship could end so abruptly after such an intense affair.
But Jane moved on quickly and never looked back. She let go of Special Agent Oso a little more gradually, and then went out for a full force sampling of Dora, Diego, SuperWhy, WordWorld, Team Umizoomi, Caillou, Bubble Guppies, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Zoboomafoo, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Waybuloo and a lot of Sprout and British programming.
I watched all of the shows with her to see what they were all about and had my complaints about most of them, but for the most part I let her watch a decent amount of each of them. A few I put some limits on, like Mickey Mouse, because I couldn’t stand it when she imitated Goofy, and SuperWhy, because Alpha Pig and each of the storybook characters were so whiny and spineless, I didn’t want Jane to pick up those bad habits.
But I never declared them officially off-limits, except … I had to put my food down at Caillou.
I have a lot of “no television” friends (who I’m sure look down on me like the worst kind of sinner) who make an exception to their rule for the pint-sized pile of whine. But in our house, Caillou is the only show the kids – 2.75 and 18 months – are not allowed to watch. Caillou is the epitome of the child I do not want in my house: a whiny, tantrum-y, close-minded, short-tempered fraidy cat. Everything frustrates him and he gets mad or upset over everything else that’s not scaring him. He uses the word “hate” and then gives children the idea of “hating” vegetables, being scared of the doctor, not liking children who are different than him, and the list goes on.
Perhaps the creators thought that they would help set an example for the kids who have those issues or to help their parents start a dialogue with them about the appropriate way to behave, but for us, it just gave Jane issues she never had before that I now have to work hard to erase.
The natural response of no-television parents would be just don’t let your kids watch t.v., like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends.
That’s no answer for me.
Despite the damage of Caillou, which I admit is from me being peer-pressured into thinking somehow this was “good t.v.,” television has been such an amazing learning tool in our house. As useful as all the baking, crafting, playing, reading, painting, open-ended play, discovery, one-on-one time, flashcards, and all the other learning and “quality” family time we spend.
The kids’ larger than average vocabularies and knowledge of life and the world are definitely not the sole result of me and Hubby talking to them, but due to watching television programs that discuss so many more ideas and concepts that we could ever cover even if we spent every spare minute of every day reading to or playing with our children. Plus, their capacities for imaginary and pretend play have been enhanced since they are getting ideas in another form besides books, art, music, and play. They love acting out and adding to the storylines they see, which has given them another perspective to build on.
When I was growing up, we watched a lot of television, too. And when I say a lot, I don’t mean the recommended 2 hours or less. We watched tons and tons. But we were also good students, participated in extracurricular activities at school and grew up to have alphabets after our names. My mom – a member of the AAP – never said television was “bad” or told us we couldn’t watch it. (Except for Three’s Company, which she thought had no value for a youngster).
She taught us that television is something we use, not the other way around. I’m glad she did. I mean, if she had limited the hundreds of hours my brother spent playing video games, would he be able to perform the extremely complicated procedures that require a hair’s-breadth precision that he does today?
Obviously, no child should only sit in front of the tube to the exclusion of all else. But it’s really not the devil it’s made out to be and can be a great educational tool if used correctly.
Probably the coolest effect of overdosing the kids on television is that it’s not something special or a treat to them. Instead of being totally entranced by tube, they enjoy when it’s t.v. time and they are perfectly happy to do other things when it’s turned off.
One day I reached for the remote control to turn it on while I was doing the dishes, and Jane said, “No, Mommy! We’re going to play in our clubhouse” (referencing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). Then she and Sam ran off to her room and slammed the door shut.
Like I said: Awesome.
If you’re a parent who *gasp* lets her kids watch television, stay tuned for the Smart Mom’s Guide To Children’s Television Programs!