Friday, April 23, 2010

TV for Toddlers

Now that Claire is two years old, she's been given the green light by the American Academy of Pediatrics to watch up to two hours of TV per day. I'm not going to lie to you. Her eyes have already beheld the flickering lights of the screen, and she's quick to identify Dora and Boots and Kailan and Ho-Ho. Still, I have given much thought to the role that I would like TV to play in my children's lives, and I'm ever-so-curious how other moms feel about this topic.

My goal to keep Claire TV-free until age two came to an end last fall when she got her first cold. We felt so sorry for our sleepy, snotty, sweet little angel that we allowed her to sit in a nest of blankets on the couch watching as much TV as she wanted for an entire weekend. When she recovered, she begged and pleaded to watch TV but I managed to help her quit the addiction cold turkey and we were back to our active days.

Next came my morning sickness. A few months later, a sprained ankle. And lately, the third trimester exhaustion has set in. During these times when Mommy hasn't been feeling well, the TV has become a lifesaver; even a half hour on the couch in the afternoon can do us both a world of good on the worst days.

I recently finished Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood by Jamie C. Martin. I love her strategy of creating a flexible structure for days spent with young children, and she even includes about an hour of TV time so that she is able to get things done. My heart sang when I read this: finally, someone is telling me it's OK to let my kid watch TV! I tried this strategy for a week (Claire was almost two, ok?). I turned on Nick Jr., a channel that I feel offers somewhat educational and age-appropriate programs (with no commercials!) and got to work cleaning the house and starting dinner. I got so much accomplished without a whiny late-afternoon toddler underfoot, and she was happy as can be.

After a few days, though, I realized that maybe this plan wasn't so perfect. Would I rather have Claire think that a magical fairy cleans the house (as her father does), or have her "help" me with chores - or at least observe what needs to be done to care for a home? Would she benefit more from sitting down to dinner, well-rested from an hour on the couch, or from watching me turn fresh, colorful vegetables into a healthy meal? Even if she chooses not to observe or participate in my cleaning or cooking chores, I feel that she could benefit more from some independent and imaginative play time than from being entertained by cartoons.

Now, don't get me wrong. Claire genuinely enjoys her favorite shows and learns new vocabulary and concepts in the process. I certainly don't think that all TV is bad. I'm not a huge fan of videos designed for babies (like Baby Einstein) (check out Buy Baby Buy: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds by Susan Gregory Thomas for more on that subject), or the commercialism of licensed characters. Still, there are plenty of commercial-free TV alternatives for toddlers available (such as DVD's or channels like Nick Jr.).

I think it really comes down to being intentional with my TV choices for Claire. Even as a stay-at-home-mom, I usually feel that there are more worthwhile things that I'd like to do each day than I have time for. I would hate for TV time to take away from time spent playing outdoors, reading books, or going on fun outings. So here is my current strategy: watching TV will be a special treat reserved for days when I really just need a break (remember, I am 7 months pregnant!), with a maximum of one hour per day*.

How do you use the TV in your home? Is it a useful tool allowing you to get things done? Is it an educational and enriching part of your child's life? Is it playful background noise, offering your child something fun to look at between other activities? Or do you choose to keep the TV off? Please chime in; I would love to hear some opinions!

*In this post I'm talking about TV time during the day, when Claire's awake. Nick and I never miss an episode of Glee or 30 Rock, so evening TV is another story!


  1. I think you are 100 % on the right track!
    For me:
    #1 is making sure that TV doesn't replace more worthwhile things, I always ask myself what are they/we missing by watching this show?
    and #2 realizing many years back that there is a time and season. Both of which you already stated in your post. When I am 38 weeks pregnant, when there is snow on the ground, when we are getting packed up and ready to move etc. we will watch more. When the weather is beautiful, baby getting older...we watch less.
    I also use TV for safety. Mine usually watch while I make dinner, b/c when I don't...I end up with a 2 year old on the back porch standing in a pool of water about to put a fork into an outlet. TV would have been a better choice that day than unsupervised outdoor play!

  2. I agree TV can be helpful destraction, but don't let it get out of hand, which I'm sure you won't.
    Tyler was never interested in tv. It probably wasn't until after he was 2 that he was interested. Now sometimes I feel like he watches too much and is too addicted to watching his cartoons. If we miss one of his favorites he'll get upset.
    We don't have cable, so the only cartoons we get M-F are on PBS. Fortunatly many are educational (i.e. Sid the Science Kid, Word World, Word Girl, Super Why and the Super Readers, etc). Tyler has learned things from the show. One day he told me he wanted to make a pulley to get toys up to a treehouse. They talked about pullies on Sid the Science kid that day so I knew what he was talking about. I feel he's learned a lot of the lower case alphabet through the shows (we had already taught him the uppercase alphebet.
    I'd suggest being on the same page as your spouse about how much tv is ok.