Wednesday, June 16, 2010

a television-free childhood

We are about 12 weeks into an extremely strict telelvision-free rhythm and routine. North was never allowed to watch much television at all, perhaps 2-3 20 minute programs per week, primarily Play School and Sesame Street, however everytime I ever put that television on and watched my active, talkative and spirited boy disappear, lulled to silence by the flashing of the screen, I felt sick with guilt and regret. Why did I find it so necessary to take him away from his unique style of playing and instead allow him to mutely observe adults and puppets playing for him?

Of course I know the answer plain and simple- it's hard work keeping children entertained, busy and occupied for twelve hours of the day. Well.... sort of. It's not that I don't enjoy it, it's that there are a million other things I need and want to get done- a load of laundry, the dinner preparation, the dishes, the sweeping of the floors, a bit of me time, writing time, a 3-minute cup of tea or a row of knitting.

Like every toddler, North prefers that Mama be involved with his playtime, making comments on the speed at which he pushes cars, tasting imaginary eggs and toast and building castles alongside him, but with every day he ages and matures, he is able to concentrate longer on tasks and games without having me there to hold his hand. The rest of the time not having the remote-control-nanny means that I must involve him in my everyday chores and activities. We cook together, clean together, shower together, even go to the bathroom together (at risk of giving too much information, he sits on his potty while I'm on mine). This makes these moments a little more time-consuming and onerous, but in the long term, I know that I am instilling in him a sense of independence and an appreciation for family unity, homesteading and food preparation, and then there's the bonus of him being toilet trained before the age of two.

I must admit the hardest part of this journey was when he was sick with the flu for about 5 days. He was extra clingy, tired but not sleeping and extremely emotional. In darker moments, I was tempted to sit him in front of the tv just so he would stay still and rest for short spurts of time. But instead, I decided to perform his regular bedtime routine- a few stories, a glass of milk, cuddles and a song- then I put him into bed with a bunch of books and let him read and talk to himself for 30 minute intervals. He was happy as can be, resting in bed and I got to have that little time-out to do whatever needed to be done. It taught us both that unwinding and resting does not have to involve a flat screen and couch.

So, before you plunk your child in front of that boob tube, with the thought that a little bit won't hurt, please at least seriously ask yourself a few questions:

Why am I putting the television on right now- for my child or for my own selfish reasons?
How will the adverts he/she is exposed to effect him/her and his/her consumerist choices in the future?
Is this enriching or taking away from my child's day in some way?
What alternatives to this 30 minute show can I think of and offer?

I truly understand and appreciate how hard mothers work with no rest and little personal space and time, but I think we underestimate ourselves and our children when we use the television as a crutch and/or parenting aid.

Be sure to stay tuned for when I am breastfeeding my babe-to-be- I've heard the television is a second-time mama's best friend for these moments. I'll come up with some coping strategies I'm sure, but the temptation will no doubt always be there.



Beckerman Girls said...

Hey Meag!
Dont know if you know this, but I grew up without a TV - from the age of 7-18yrs! My Mom read an article in the Globe and Mail about how TV kills creativity and she pulled the plug! At first we freaked out, but then we got used to it and it was normal. I think the key for us was that my parents always made sure that we could have as many markers, books and journals/scrapbooks as we could handle. And we has eachother to keep ourselves busy! :)I think it definitely strengthened our relationships over time.

Today I am siging in as our fashion blog the Beckerman Bite Plate because I couldnt figure out how to link my personal gmail to our blogger profile! Lots of love and kisses xoxoxoxo Chloe

Wendy said...

Love this! My 18-month-old has seen televisions only once or twice (there was no way around it), and I'm so glad I'm sticking to my guns. When we announced this was our intention before he was born, people would say: "How in the world are you going to do that?" I appreciate what you wrote today because, yes, sometimes (many times) it would be easier to plop him down in front of the tv, but it wouldn't be best! You gave me some creative ideas for what to do on those extra-clingy days.

As far as watching TV while breastfeeding, I found that (at least during the first few months) I was able to get in more quality reading time than I had in many months before he was born and in the months since! (:

Katy said...

Yes I am a 'playschool only' mum - but I may follow in your footsteps. Sometimes all you need is one person to put an idea into context and actually see it working! Brilliant x

Vic said...

I sooooo agree with the post! Now that Elliot is getting older and less dependent (he's just turned 3) we are watching less and less tv. When Archie first arrived I used taped Playschool as 'quiet time' so I could get the baby down for his morning sleep. Otherwise El would be in the room with me, talking up a storm! I never used the tv when feeding but Elliot had a stash of special feeding books that he got out when I was feeding and we'd snuggle on the lounge and read. It was lovely bonding time for all three of us, Elliot would often be listening to the story with one hand rubbing Archie's feet or patting his bottom. The three of you will find your own ryhthm, it may just take a while. Vic xx

Mrs B said...

Audiobooks are a great quiet time instead of TV. I do something similar in putting Little B into bed to listen to stories, when I need time to finish cooking (or whatever).

He listens to things like Dr Suess, Noddy, The Little Engine that Could. But you can also get stories read by Playschool presenters as well. Some I got from the library but some from iTunes.

TV is highly overrrated!! Little B happily gave it up, and doesnt miss it. We only use it on the odd occasion (eg Playschool has an episode about bushfires, and we play it intermittently during bushfire season - because its a calm way of explaining the possibility of evacuating)

As for a second bubs, friends have recommended having a couple of breastfeeding bags. These have some books, toys, puzzles etc that only come out during breastfeeding and you rotate them so they dont get bored. Maybe that will help when you have your new bubba?

tamdoll said...

Awesome post. I have teens now, and have never eliminated television from my house because Mr. Tamdoll adores it... BUT from day one I've limited it for the kids. Even now, the girls only get an hour or two on weekends and although it's been REALLY hard going all these years, it is COMPLETELY worth it. They are so creative, artistic, and well-read, I couldn't be happier. It's amazing how that after a few minutes of grumbling and complaints, they wander around the house and come up with something unique to occupy their time.

I'd 2nd the audio books suggestion, too, it's nice & hands-free.

brentasarus said...

All very good points I think.

Both my wife and I work from home in our own businesses (designing sustainable jewllery (me) and clothing (her)) and although our little one Hunter is only 5 months old we already feel the pressure of our work load building on our shoulders.
As a family, before Hunter came along we only really watch 30 mins to an hour of tv of a night time, after a days work. This is still the case now. Our days consist of juggling Hunter between us while the other gets some work done, a luxury of both parents being at home all the time. Whilst our work within our business has slowed, we still manage, and pretty much do so without TV and I like to think we can keep this up for years to come. I also think what the kids watch on TV is a big factor too, im no expert on it yet and it's only early days but I think as long as they are learning from it, its just another medium of communication and one which without it I fear they may be isolated in different ways later on in life.

As usual, it's all about balance I think. The TV is and should definatly not be a baby sitter, but at the same time responsible watching can probably teach our kids things we may not be able to?

just a thought :)


Sonia said...

All these great mums! I'm afraid I'm guilty of plonking my kids in front of the box on occasion in the week. Not a lot but enough to make me think I'm not doing the right thing. It's so easy to get into this bad habit. Thanks for the post. It's good to be reminded of this.

Fourth Daughter said...

I'm not a mum (nor do I intend to be except to my cat!) but I think this is a great effort on your part... is it my imagination or is TV a lot worse than it was when we were kids? Playschool, Young Talent Time, Mr Squiggle etc... I don't watch kids' TV now so I don't know, but it seems a lot of the better stuff just doesn't exist!

Anonymous said...

I think every family needs to decide what is right for them and for their children.

kitty said...

I think that's a great move.
I didn't watch telly until I was about 6, we used to just entertain ourselves for hours on end. I guess it will get easier when baby number two is a little older.
I plan on doing the same as you for my little one. Our TV sits in the corner, only to be rolled out for movies. Some programs are completely mind numbing & then we have to compete with all the merchandise that goes along with it these days too. Although I must admit to being a fan of playschool.

Julie said...

I agree it's hard work involving them in everything we do, but as you pointed out, putting in the hard yards at the beginning is so worth it in the long run. I think many parents feel these days that kids must be "entertained" all day long, but that's not how the world works, we all have to do more mundane activities like cleaning up, and involving them from an early age teaches them so much!

And like Mrs B, I had a breastfeeding bag - a bag full of books and special toys or activities which the older girls used when I was breastfeeding. Neither older girl was remotely interested in the TV while I was "captive" on the lounge! (Though I did learn to feed on the move when they were old enough to get into trouble while I was sitting down ;-) It was mostly story-telling time, and it worked really well for the most part :-)

Earth Mama said...

Oh man, thank you for this. I so needed to read this right now.


arwen_tiw said...

I find it interesting that the majority seem to think TV can only be used for babysitting, and feel guilty about it when they do. Perhaps if/when you are unschooling older children you might end up re-evaluating what you see as harmful in light of seeking to allow them to make their own informed decisions?

Sometimes when we control their choices so much we are underestimating their true ability to distinguish between positive and negative input? (Though with the youngest ones I do agree that if they are over-exposed their ability to distinguish is impeded, so I tend to distract them in the next room by something Really Fun like emptying the washing machine.)

Thus Speaks the newly fully autonomous mama whose children chose to watch pretty much SkyArts and Discovery, critically evaluate cartoons and advertising, hate the houses they visit where TV is constant background distraction, engage fully in entire weeks of uninterrupted wonderful creative play, and whose mama does not avoid involving them in every aspect of her own life... :)

Ooty said...

This is the never-ending story I have with my husband about TV around the house! When I grew up I never liked TV! Books, papers, music were much more to me than this blinking screen. The first time as an Adult that I had TV at homw was when me and my huband moved in together - I had really hard time with it being on first thing when he arrived home =P.

Today I admit I watch the Worldcup =D I love football/soccer =) this is the only thing you will catch me watch and also, most of the times it will be outside the house at some resturant or by the beach instead of home.

As for my girl, when she is with me - we are playing at the studio, claying, painting walking outside and TV is not an option, but when her father is arround.....well you get it =)

ecoMILF said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and suggestions for breastfeeding with two- very very helpful!

@arwen-tiw- I do agree once North gets to a certain age and is genuinely interested in the tv, i think i will provide him with a tv guide and allow a certain amount of time/programs per week. But until he is old enough to make that decision I'll make the choice for him. If you've ever read my stuff on him being vegetarian, you will see I have a similar philosophy. He will eventually make his own decisions and I will respect them, hoping that I have set up a foundation for critical thinking and evaluation before making decisions.

arwen_tiw said...

Interesting to read your thoughts on how this issue (as all others) may evolve as he gets older. :)

With food our principles of free choice are similar; though I have recently begun to allow them totally free choice, it is free choice within what I will and won't have in the house for my own ethical reasons. ;) Had I made the decision for myself that we were not actually going to replace a TV that broke, or sell ours, they would be TV free by default - no controls over what they watch, just no TV in the house in the first place!

Andrea said...

I'm instituting a screen-free summer this year (no TV, DVDs or computer) for my 3 boys. They're grumbling about it already, but really they watch very little TV (especially in the spring/summer) and I don't think they'll really notice. I absolutely use the TV as an aid to quiet them down, get them to stop fighting, while away a rainy afternoon, babysit while I do something I want to do...but at 5 and 9, they're old enough to entertain themselves, and if not, I throw them outside.

Mama Gone Green said...

Thanks for your post. We don't let our 2 year old watch any tv, but we do let him watch short bursts of movies (15-20 minutes a couple times a week) if I really need to get some work done. We rent movies from the library so there are no commercials and they go back to the library so we don't always have them on-hand. But, once he gets to watch some of a movie, he will continue to ask to watch a movie for the remainder of that day and the next, which makes me feel like we need to go totally movie-free with him. Something to ponder....

Emma said...

Megan, I agree 100% with you! this is a brilliant post, and written so clearly too. We have been without a TV for 3 years now, and could never go back!

It was a coincidence that you wrote on this topic today, as I have just posted about living in a TV free household on my personal blog

Thanks for your daily inspiration,
Emma x

frayedattheedge said...

Hi Meagan - I think you have to go with what suits your child. One thing to consider when North is older is that he can fit in at school with the other children who get to watch tv - I remember from my own childhood the misery of being the only one who didn't see some programmes that my classmates saw simply because my Dad didn't like that particular tv channel. As for breast-feeding - it doesn't have to be tv - there are plenty of excellent dvds that the two of you can watch while you feed the baby.

Mira Narnie said...

wow- well done you! My son has never really been a TV watcher, walking away after 5 minutes - so only gets short burts! he is much happier outside or doing drawing, craft or playing with me or his sister! I have made a conscious effort not to offer TV and this has reduced the time dramatically as well! So much more fun stuff to be doing i reckon! Yay!!!!

Amber said...

Oh such a fantastic post and yes we have been TV free for about five or so months now and i am asking myself why i did not do this long ago. My children have forgotten it! They spend their beautiful hours only ever playing, baking, crafting or just enjoying whatever it is in the moment. I loved reading this post and agree totally. As for when bub comes along, i have a five month old sweet baby girl and her brother and sister play around me, watch her feed, play with my hair, or just move along with life, i believe your little one will too, after all it does not take long for the tv to be something they forget about...lots of sunshining days to you...xxxx

Twig and Toadstool said...

Great post! I'm all for getting rid of the tv, and I can totally relate to that coma inducing television guilt that you felt!
I always observed the negative effects of tv on my daughter, (decreased attention span, bad behaviour) free is definately something I hope to attain in the next few months!
Thank you for this post...I think it's going to give me just the push that I need!
xo maureen

dillpickle said...

We're a 'preferably playschool only' household during the week, and sometimes the sport is on over the weekend, but I'm really strict about not watching children's programs on commercial TV. Even the ABC can feel a bit pushy sometimes (all those 'promos' for other programs that they have!). I do like playschool, as much for the activity ideas it gives me! And I like how it's not about doing things 'right', but rather enjoying making and playing.

I've found these comments really helpful, especially for coming up with ideas for activities when breastfeeding number 2! Thanks for a thought provoking post :-)

Daan said...

So true, we also try to keep it to a minimum. But sometimes we have to ask ourselves those questions!

We don't put on the tv anymore and when we do because mommy really, really has to cook (or ...) we choose a dvd of our choice (so no nasty advertisements)

Our eldest daughter (8) is allowed to see 1 programme she loves; 'Klokhuis' a informative programma for children where questions of children are being answered, also with lots of theatre)

But now it's summertime, so hup, hup, they play outside where there is no tv at all!

(well ... except for the WK Footballtournament for mummy and daddy ;-)

Happy weekend!

heather said...

i waver. i have almost smashed our tv in with a hammer a hundred times. keeping the balance is tricky for us. but but but but. i don't know if i'm justnot strong enough to go through with it, or what, but i know i love watching movies sometimes too. and my kids love love love their movie day. one cool thing we're doing to keep it alive, and not the creepy drone zone, is we are currently writing our own screen play from one of their favorite movies. it will soon become a home made movie starring my little movie lovers. anyhoo. it's such an interesting topic. yes it is. love. h

kollene carlsson said...

we've been trying no tv for about 3 weeks now and really... it's amazing! now our little girls play soooo so much TOGETHER!!! it's the most beautiful thing!

jorth said...

I love your blog - it's great. I can't believe I haven't been here before now!

Our Grumbles - almost 6 - has never known the "joy" of tv, and is incredibly creative and resourceful with her time that might otherwise be spent in front of the tube. She is allowed to watch the occasional dvd on the computer, but often is more content happily playing her own games, which is great!

A TV-free life isn't for everybody, but it definitely works for us. We're up to 12 years now!

moogroon said...

Hi there - I know I'm a little late on this, but I've been catching up! I too limit the amount of TV my kids watch (one is almost 5 and the other 2 and a 1/2). We moved when my oldest was 2 and a half, and we became completely reliant on TV (as a babysitter) which I regretted so much! Ordinarily, she talks non stop, but on goes the TV, and she'd clam up and "glotz" while tuning out everything we said! Now we download programs we are familiar with and let the kids watch a few hours per week. My concern is that they are getting no exposure to mass media. And you can't keep it out forever. Case in point, my daughter now knows how to read, and as we pass through town, she reads billboard adverts, and I think, "How am I ever going to deal with this?" So now, I wonder if it isn't a good idea to sit down and watch a show or two with her on regular TV, and explain to her what all the craziness is about. We already have chats about the airbrushed models on the front of magazines at the grocery store. How they are "pictures" just like the ones she draws at home. They are not what the people really look like. So, I guess, I'm not advocating TV, but I think we need to prepare out kids for "the world out there" in some way... Any thoughts?

ashley said...

off topic.
where did you get our beautiful waldorf doll?
x ashley

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