Kids and TV

Is Sponge Bob really that bad, asks one parent.

SpongeBob: not the great satan

How much TV should kids watch? This question comes up again and again on Park Slope Parents as each new generation of parents begins the transition from babies who don’t do all that much to toddlers and little kids who do.

In the early days it’s easier to take a hard line. Babies are a lot of work but there are naps and soulful interludes of babygym play. It’s easy to imagine a future in which TV doesn’t figure. The children will be too busy playing with their tasteful wooden toys or increasing their motor skills by playing with homemade organic playdough or curled up with us reading cool books about not letting the Pigeon achieve world domination.

Mobility ratchets up the energy and the effort it takes to look after kids both in terms of keeping them out of things and the pressure to find things do with them. By the time kids reach 3, especially if they are (ahem) "spirited", it’s easy to find one’s self in the situation like the one described by one mom on our list: that of having exhausted every ounce of parental creativity in what can only be called a heroic attempt to keep the children engaged in fulfilling, educatonal activities. She found she desperately needed a break. In other words, she needed the kids to watch some TV.

It turns out that TV is one of those things parents feel deeply conflicted about. It’s not just the genre of (highly dubious) scary research literature devoted to convincing parents that SpongeBob will give their child ADHD. It’s the feeling we have as parents that unless we are engaged with our children making sure they are spending their time productively we’ve failed.

Here’s the PSP reality check:

Most parents on our list let their kids watch TV or have other screen time – but we lie about it like cheap, Olefin rugs. We lie to ourselves about how much they watch. Dora, Diego, The Backyardigans and the Wonder Pets are… TWO HOURS! We like to other people, mumbling things like “Oh, now and then, on special occasions…”

TV is really useful in the “unhappy” hour around dinner time.

The problem with TV isn’t so much the TV itself but what kids aren’t doing while they’re watching it – like playing.

It is not necessary, nor is it a good idea to become your child’s entertainment. It’s exhausting but more to the point kids need down time, unstructured play or even boredom. They need the space away from our expectations and demands to experiment, to play and generally to be their own people.

It’s good not to have too much TV, it’s better to encourage your kids to play on their own.

If you are honest about using the TV you will find others will be honest about it. Then you won't have to feel paranoid. Not feeling paranoid is a good thing on many levels.

That sweet kid who sits are your daughter’s table still manages to be a delightful and intelligent in spite of having watched Johnny Test Your child will be too.

Being a good parent isn’t just about being involved; it about knowing when NOT to be involved.

Nancy McDermott

Don't shoot me - I'm just the messenger