First of all, if you know where “Stevie the TV” comes from, then you just might be as much of a Friends fan as I am. And if you are, then you may also understand my love for TV in general. But if not, then just know this—I really, really like TV. I love the stories and the characters and the overall entertainment value that comes from television (I also love reading and watching movies, for the same reasons).
At the same time, before Cody was born, I had some very clear ideas in mind about what I wanted for my kids as far as media exposure goes. I’ve never liked the idea of the two-year-old-playing-games-on-the-ipad phenomenon. I don’t think it’s good for older children and teenagers to spend hours upon hours each day playing video games or messing around on the computer. And even though I love TV myself, I don’t really believe that it can be healthy for children to spend hours a day watching it. Cory and I both want to make sure that our kids are active participants in the real world—not screen-obsessed like most kids seem to be these days.
That’s still an important goal to me, but since Cody was born, I’ve had to find a middle ground between what I originally planned and what actually works for my day-to-day life. Originally, I’d planned to have a strict rule about “no screens” until our kids were two years old. But once Cody turned about two months old, he started to sleep less and spend more time being awake and alert, yet he wasn’t content to lay on his back and play by himself for any reasonable amount of time. I started to spend most of my time sitting or standing around holding him, and frankly, I quickly became extremely bored. Finally, one day, I turned on the TV in a desperate attempt to entertain myself. Ever since then, Cody has been receiving a top-notch education at Friends University, where he’s minoring in psychology through the Pretty Little Liars program and enjoying the state-of-the-art music program, The Voice, in his spare time. Recently, he’s also shown interest in the How I Met Your Mother course of study. This kid is going to be a TV expert before we know it!
In all seriousness, though, I have struggled with our decisions in this area. The experts all seem to agree that TV should be avoided for children under age two. Even though Cody seems to be developing perfectly and hitting all of his milestones, I still worry that somehow we’re doing irreparable damage to his little brain by letting him watch TV with us. It’s one of those things that I see many parents doing, yet doctors and articles and baby books still warn me not to do. And since I tend to question everything I’m told, I decided to look a little deeper into the reasons behind these warnings. Is TV really so bad for kids?
I discovered that basically, TV is considered to be bad for young children because it takes time away from activities that are very important to their development. Playing, interacting socially, and exploring the world are all vital activities that babies and young children should be spending most of their awake-time doing. Children’s language development can be particularly affected by having insufficient verbal interaction with people around them—reading and talking to your baby is really important! It’s also been “proven” that so-called educational TV programs designed for children have no positive benefits to their development. So basically, sitting your child in front of the TV to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse doesn’t actually count as positive development time.
Still, I have to wonder if TV is really all that harmful for children who also spend a lot of time each day getting the stimulation they need. I can’t help but feel that children’s shows could be a very useful tool to keep little ones entertained for short periods of time, allowing parents to get a few vital things done around the house (always within viewing distance of the child, of course). And in my case, TV helps me keep my sanity when I’m losing my mind with boredom, and gives me a mental break when I really need it. Most of the time, Cody is happy to just be held while I stand and sway, watching an episode of one of my favorite shows. In fact, sometimes when he’s upset no matter what I try to do with him, holding him while I watch TV is the only thing that works.
The reality is that Cody spends a lot of time each day playing and discovering his world. We read to him every day and talk to him constantly. Each day he spends time playing independently while we do chores, and we spend time sitting on the floor and playing with him. We go on walks and errands, exposing him to sights and sounds out in the world. But even with all of that, there is still so much time in the day, and we do spend some of it watching TV with him. But you know what? I think that’s okay.
In a perfect world, I would have endless patience and Cody would play happily with his toys and listen while I read books to him all day long, and we would follow a carefully regimented yet flexible schedule of developmental activities. But this is not a perfect world, and the truth is that often, I just need a little Friends in my day. For the time being, Cody allows me to enjoy this small pleasure, and until he no longer cooperates with me on this, I plan to continue enjoying it. It’s still important to me to make sure that Cody has plenty of stimulating activities in his day, and TV is something that we save for after all of the other activities, or for short breaks in between them. Plus, when we watch it with him, we see it for what it is—entertainment for us, distracting and appeasing for Cody, but not educational or helpful for his development. But personally, I think it’s okay to have some time like that in our day. Not every moment has to be a learning opportunity.