It's a constant struggle between feeling like you're allowing your kids some harmless entertainment and turning their brains to mush.
Entertainment Parenting

The Great Screen Time Debate

It's a constant struggle between feeling like you're allowing your kids some harmless entertainment and turning their brains to mush.

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By Jocelyn Cox of The Home Tome

Of all the hot-button dilemmas of parenthood, I have waffled on the “screen-time” and television issue the most.

To state it plainly, I didn’t think I would let my child watch any TV. And yet, already by the age of two-and-a-half, my child has watched a lot. At one point recently, I think we sometimes hit about two hours per day, often during meal times. This admission pains me…

In my late 20’s and into my 30’s I didn’t watch television for ten years. This was because I wanted to spend my time reading, writing, thinking, creating, and connecting with people rather than staring at the so-called “boob tube.” And you know what? I did do all those things with a vengeance. This long period of tuning out was a positive experience and arguably formative for me. As a child, I did watch television, with limitations. I don’t remember the exact rules, but I think it came to a few hours per week.

Eventually, once I met and moved in with my husband, I started watching television again and I have certainly enjoyed it. I have zoned out on our couch, watching whole seasons of a show in one sitting in a state of bliss. On the other hand, I’ve turned off the TV, disgusted with the content, ashamed of myself and all of humankind. Okay, maybe that last bit is an overstatement, but suffice it to say there’s an ongoing debate in my head, like a ping-pong match, back and forth, as I introduce this powerful outlet to my child.

In fact, as of this writing, we have gone cold turkey; we haven’t turned on any of his shows in more than four weeks. Oh, how I cringe to type those words, “his shows”: i.e. Thomas the Train, Bob the Builder, Daniel Tiger. I don’t know how long we’ll be in this phase. By the time this posts, he may in fact be watching the glowing magic box again. Whether he is watching or not, I suspect I will still engage in the following inner-debate:

1. TV promotes laziness; I don’t want my kid to be a couch potato. He should be moving around outside, getting fresh air.

BUT there is also something to be said for giving the mind and the body a break. For those 10 years when I didn’t watch TV, I rarely really relaxed or escaped my own thoughts. And let me tell you, when you’re sick with a cold or a flu and you can’t fall asleep, sometimes the healthiest thing to do is watch something mindless; reading is not always the answer. Besides, how will my son and I get through winter, all those months when it’s too cold to be outside for extended periods of time?

2. TV kills creativity; I want my child to come up with his own stories, to exercise his imagination, and develop his own ideas about the world.

BUT I’ve noticed that some of these cartoons nicely demonstrate cause and effect, character development, and conflict resolution. Lately, instead of watching TV, we’ve been taking turns telling stories at the dinner table, about, say, purple turtles who live in tents or little flowers who drive pick up trucks to find umbrellas. I suspect that, in addition to all the books we’ve read (shout out to Dr. Seuss), these shows have helped him formulate these quirky plot lines.

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3. TV is too violent, too fast-paced, too bombastic.

BUT, well… Okay, I have nothing to say to this one. This irks me and probably always will. I suppose the only solution is to curate aggressively, to be in-tune with what’s going on in these shows. I have a low tolerance for screaming and there is a lot of screaming, even on kid’s shows that are otherwise fairly educational. (I’m looking at you, Super Why.) What really concerns me are the times when I pause a program and ask our son, “What’s going on in this story?” In response, he focuses on the more “exciting,” “action-packed” moments. He’ll mention some character and some object and then say, “…and then they CRASHED IT!” No thanks.

4. TV is a brainless waste of time.

BUT Mommy needs to wash the dishes, make dinner, send an e-mail, write a parenting column, finish her work schedule, talk to the plumber, etc. etc. etc. She needs to get these kinds of things done in order to achieve a modicum of control within the chaos. Then when she’s done with these chores she can sit down to look her child in the eyes and fulfill his request to roll out a whole family of play-doh snakes. And THIS, this attempt to obtain a bit of balance and sanity, is why the television was turned on in the first place, why all of the above justifications have been developed and why the television may be turned on again soon, maybe as soon as…today.

Of course, as with so many things in life, moderation is almost always the answer: finding the middle ground is essential. Let’s face it, this is challenging for both adults and kids. If you are able to find it (or if you can recommend a TV show on how to find it), let me know.

This post was originally published on Nyack News & Views.



About Jocelyn Jane Cox

Jocelyn Jane Cox is the mother of a toddler, a figure skating coach, and a nap-time blogger with a weird penchant for decorative mushrooms. She is the author of The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness and blogs about the adventures of parenting and home-ownership atThe Home Tome. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.