Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a tv-free childhood update and an inspiring read

I wanted to share with you a few quotes from the book I just finished, Calm and Compassionate Children- A Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond.

“Inner calm needs silence and solitude to develop. In my many years as an educator, I have noticed that families whose children are calmest usually have a common characteristic: their parents have given them the gift of silence. To have time for their own thoughts, to get in touch with their own feelings, to imagine- for these pursuits children need quiet time. Media-saturated children seldom have the quality of contentment, and, unfortunately, most American kids are media saturated. Babies and toddlers are comfortable with silence but as they grow older some become addicted to constant audio stimulation…

If we want our children to become more aware and compassionate, we need to carefully select what they hear. A backdrop of TV and radio constantly playing leads to the exact opposite of expanding awareness. Children who are immersed in constant noise learn to block some of it out. This suppression of awareness leads to a contraction of the consciousness and sensitivity to the environment and others…
The underlying message from virtually all media is that satisfying material desires and looking good will bring fulfillment. A child who watches a lot of TV also puts much time and energy into begging for the latest toy, snack item or computer game. When she gets it she’s excited and happy but… This emotional high is not the kind of calm joy that comes from inner contentment…
I can often tell right away whether the child has been exposed to a lot of media. In those children, there is a restlessness, a discontent. They are constantly seeking fulfillment outside themselves. They cannot sit still; their eyes shift from object to object because they are so conditioned to flashing images that their brains have difficulty concentrating on one thing.
Contrast this to children who live in homes with little media exposure. They play “pretend” for hours with a few blocks of wood and stuffies, creating wonderful fantasies. These children have patience and an ability to concentrate…”

North has been completely TV-free for 8 months now minus the very occasional 20 minute DVD at his Grandparent’s house or borrowed from the library as a special treat. When I decided to be “one of those mums”, I didn’t realize just how hard it would be at the start. I was clearly addicted to having the television on for brief spurts to ‘baby-sit’ him while I had a quick shower or got dinner on. Meanwhile, North was becoming increasingly attached to the lull it put him in, as well as emotionally attached to the characters on the shows he understood so little about. Even to this day he has seen about 3 ‘Bob the Builder’ episodes at his Grandparents and he has attached himself to the branded images of Bob and his friends, as well as memorized the theme song! I’d say about 5 months into our television-free days I stopped thinking about it. When North was being difficult or tired or hanging off of my legs while I was trying to get something done, I didn’t automatically think, “I’d really like to stick him in front of the TV right now to keep him quiet and calm”.

Although many people warned me that I would want the TV around when our newest addition to the family arrived so that I could feed her in peace, this wasn’t the case at all. I had already abandoned any attachment or reliance I had on the zombie-state the TV put my son in. Now, when North gets overtired or grumpy, I tell him to go lie down and have a rest, or to read a book. Quite often when he starts to sook (complain) he’ll tell me himself that he is tired and he wants to lie down in his “Niy-niy bed”. When I feed Indigo he often lies in bed with us for the first few minutes and then wanders off to play on his own until I am finished and Indigo is asleep. Of course other times he acts exactly as a two-year-old should act: he’s loud, obnoxious, rough and vying for my attention. But we get through it and Indigo is used to some commotion here and there.

Since we let go of the television North’s imagination has soared to great heights. He has imaginary friends, he uses puppets and toys to speak to one another, and he tells himself stories about cars, trucks, builders and ferries. He’s started making up his own songs and jigging around while singing them. Everything and anything can and will at some point be deemed, a “baneela” ice cream, which he will offer over and over again. He can lead himself in imaginary play of all sorts for up to 25 minutes without any input from me. I’m not saying that children who watch television don’t have this kind of imagination, but I do wonder if it is hindered by all the flashing lights and puppets and people doing all the imagining for them while they sit there still and wide-eyed. Above all else I have noticed North’s appreciation for silence and quietude. When Indigo was born and our home was filled with grandparents, visitors and nurses around the clock, I quickly noticed North’s temperament was thrown not only because he now had a new baby sister, but because he hadn’t had as many silent moments to himself as he usually enjoyed.

North carries with him a calm peace. Knock on wood, but he has never acted aggressively towards another child unless seriously provoked. He’s also not yet (never say never!) thrown a tantrum or anything of the like. The closest he gets to a meltdown is when he becomes emotional and teary as a result of being overtired. You may think we’re just lucky to have such an easy child, or that part of his personality is a result of our upbringing, but I honestly believe so much of his calm, peace and compassion is a direct result of him living tv-free and instead living and experiencing himself in each and every moment.

Even if you are not as stringent about turning the television off as I am, I urge you to give your child some time each day to play quietly, to read, to sit, to reflect and to talk and play with herself without any interference. Try it for a week and see if you notice any positive differences in her behaviour and demeanor. I am quite sure you will.



Prairie Mother said...

Thank you for the book excerpt. I'm going to put that book on my to read list.

Although my kids watch tv everyday, I limit it to only 30 minutes of commercial free programs or videos that I know the content of. On days they have no tv, they easily occupy themselves in quietly.

Funny, I'd never thought about it but I notice those children who watch lots of tv and their behavior IS drastically different than my kids.

Glad to know North, and you, are doing so well without tv!

Kristina said...

Wonderful post. I plan to not have tv on with my little one, considering the research says that there's no point before age 2, and then very limited after that.

As a teacher, I definitely see the over-stimulated, over-attached attitudes of the children, and I wish for my girl a more peaceful, observant existence, you know?

Of course, this may change a little once she gets here and grows up a bit, but that's my plan for now :)

Catherine said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughtful post on having a tv free life and during the week my girls are not allowed to watch tv, that time is best used to wind down after school and get a bit of homework done. When it's not offered they really don't want it on at all and I believe that not having it on stops that overstimulation that can cause children to be a little unsettled. It's holidays here and the girls watched too much tv today, tomorrow I'm aiming for a tv free day. Thank you again for your inspiration. xo

Mrs B said...

Thank you for that excerpt. It's so nice to read the positives put so well. I only find TV free hard when people jump on me about "depriving" my child.

But it is amazing how much they jump on brand stuff. We were given a Toy Story book and saw some kids dressed up at story time as Buzz and Woody. Well you would think Little B has watched Toy Story a million times, as he play acts out Buzz and Woody shenanigans at home. It's amazing what takes root.

But he's just as happy with his creative and imaginary play of the "interfirms" - hmm I love made up words LOL.

Catherine Lowe said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences!
It was only yesterday we had a playdate and I was talking about how jealous I am of all the crafty mamas who blog out there, their huge amounts of projects and how I just cant imagine what they do with their toddler to achieve it! I was thinking maybe its TV!?
For a split second I contemplated the appliance, but my mind flashed back to an image of the beautiful little playscapes you create for North when he wakes, and I found inspiration in the thought that maybe this is where we are now at for me to be able to achieve the little things with some peace!?
And I guess for me, I’ll just have to put the big craft projects on hold for the now, just do it bit by bit when I can sneak it in..

We don’t watch TV in our house much at all, and I love it that way. Rivers only 20 months and he sits and enjoys a whole story book while friends tell me their children just don’t have the attention span for it. In fact he now takes himself off with a book and often comes to me asking to be read to, and crys if I ask him to wait a moment.

Anyhow, I really just wanted to share my gratitude, a tiny slice of our life, and maybe another post idea – on what to do to get dinner cooked without a child on your leg! Haha
Love to you & your family,

motherwho said...

Another great post. I am planning to give my little girl a majority TV free childhood. I have a 4 year old half brother who watches copious amount of television and I do not want to go there! I believe a lot of his behaviour and lack of imagination is seriously to blame on that nasty box.

Thanks for giving me ideas and hope that a tv free existence is possible despite pressure from family and friends!

Sarah Elizabeth said...

I completely agree with everything you say in this post. I'm a school teacher and I can tell immediately when a child is used to watching a lot of tv or playing video-games. They're more restless and lack concentration. They need constantly changing stimulation in order to keep their interest on anything. They can't stay on the same task for more than a few minutes at a time. Unfortunately this type of child is becoming more and more common. I don't have children yet but at the moment we don't have a tv and I'm not planning on getting one. An occasional movie watched on the laptop will be all that is allowed.

Transit Antenna Home said...

Inspiring reminder. Thanks for sharing!

Tricia said...

Thanks Megan for sharing that quote and for inspiring me with your update.

I've been letting Little Eco watch TV in the past few weeks while we've been sick. Her behaviour has deteriorated and I have seriously noticed a decrease in her imagination and creativity. yesterday she had her first ever temper tantrum at the shops. I just know its TV. So today were back to TV free and she understands why.

Mara said...

Hi Meagan

I cannot say that Luana is a 100%TV-free child, but the box is on during very limited times too. She also loves to play prentend (making different voices for each soft toy in the play!), adores puzzles (and is VERY good at them!), drawing, reading and playing xylophone and singing.
At the moment she also likes the Lion King video, which my dad sent us in Portuguese...but she sits and watches the movie with her own Simba, Nala and a purple monkey she has (prentending to be Rafiki), a yellow chick (that in her play is Zazu) and a Siberian dog with a mane made of cardboard, who is Mufasa. I don't mind her watching this video because it ignites her imagination for further pretend play when the TV is turned off.
Hope we can meet again soon.

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