Before my son was born, my husband and I talked at length idyllically about how we planned to parent. Never a harsh word would pass our lips, we would cuddle our child lovingly to sleep every night and life would pass in a state of bliss. We both agreed that we would never put our child in front of the TV until he was 3 years old.
The weeks after I delivered the screaming bundle of joy passed in a sleep deprived blur. Slowly as we put our world back together again we learned that parenting was a little different to what we imagined and left most of the high minded ideals in the pre-natal class. Except one.
I was aware of the research that Pediatrician Dimitri Krystakis from Seattle Children’s Hospital had published on the effects of early television exposure and the attention problems that it can cause. His research really hit a note with me and so the decision to abstain from TV for my son’s first three years never was much of a challenge. I believe that parenting is an imperfect art, so believe me when I say that there are many areas of my parenting leave much to be desired. I’m writing this article simply to share my experiences, I don’t judge other parents, and none is intended here.
We were about a year in to our journey when I discovered, that we were very definitely a minority in the “No TV” stakes. I didn’t bring up the topic, but one day a mother ran an informal poll around our playgroup of 6 families. Ours was the only TV free family left.
According to Dr. Krystakis:
“by 3 months of age 40% of children regularly watch TV. By 24 months that number rises to 90%, and on average 2 year olds are watching 1.5 hrs of TV a day. By the time children reach 3 they are spending 20 to 30% of their waking hours watching TV and videos, despite the short attention spans of this age group. “
I started to feel like a bit of a freak when it came to our TV free choice, I avoided bringing it up in conversation with my friends, because I didn’t want them to feel like I was judging (I wasn’t) and because I didn’t want to be known as an “extremist”.
At home, I never felt inclined to put my son in front of the TV, although as he grew through stages there were challenges, especially with my husband travelling on business once or twice a month. Dinner time was a big one. Our home is “old school” with a separate kitchen from the living/dining room. If my son was in the living room I couldn’t see him so instead I involved him in making dinner. He would stand on a stool and initially watch me make dinner as I chopped, stirred and cooked next to him. After a while he would help me chop the veggies. Later I let him choose, he could help me in the kitchen or play by himself in the living room. These days he usually chooses to play in the living room, because it is his choice he is quite happy and gets engrossed in whatever he’s doing in there.
It rains a lot in Vancouver. Sometimes it rains all day and we spend a lot of time in doors. Not having TV as an option has forced the two of us to get creative. We have an armada of go-to activities including obstacle course games, baking, crafts, puzzles plus much more that we entertain ourselves with.
Sometimes kids are tired, cranky or both. My son is no different, instead of flicking on the TV I read to him, or we sit together and talk about what is happening outside the window. These moments of stillness together are some of my most treasured.
My son will be three in August. My goal was always to abstain from TV until his brain was more developed. I didn’t want to keep him from it indefinitely because I didn’t want it to be an alluring forbidden fruit. A couple of weeks ago, I decided that he was close enough to three and we started watching some Thomas and Chuggington DVD’s together occasionally. Nothing pushed me over the edge, it just felt like time. His reaction was that he liked TV but that it wasn’t a big deal. My goal is that TV will be a social thing that we can sit and discuss together. We will continue to limit his exposure – so far the challenge has been finding time to fit it in rather than limiting it.
So what have I learned from all this? Obviously, my personal experience with one child isn’t a very scientific study, but here’s how I feel about it. Going TV free for three years (almost) has been a fantastic experience for me and my son. It has pushed me to get creative and comfortable with different activity ideas. So much so, that I have no idea how to fit TV into our days. I also believe that it has encouraged my son to learn how to entertain himself instead of expecting to be entertained all the time, which has to be one of the all time important life lessons that parents want to hand to their children. I was really pleased by his muted reaction to TV. He thinks it’s nice, but I think (hope) that he’s learned that there are lots of fun things to do in life and TV is just one of them.
I came into this out of fear for what TV may do to my child. I come out of it feeling like the experience has given me a fantastic grounding in parenting skills. Would I recommend this to new parents? Absolutely.
For more information on Dr. Kristakis check out his website: www.maketvwork.com
Or this 15 minute TED video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo