By Terri Lively
I have had a relationship with TV all my life. As a child, the TV was as much a part of my family as family dinner or Saturday chores. We all watched shows together, with all of us crammed in our living room, gathered around the TV that was so huge and clunky by today’s standards that it could have served as a boat anchor if need be, and not for a little boat either.
The amount of TV I watched as a child had no limits. I suspect this is because I am the fourth child of four. By the time I came along, my parents were too exhausted to keep up the high standards for child rearing that they started out with, a concept that required both constant vigilance and demand of perfection. As a result, my eldest brother (who got their best stuff) is a high-powered executive millionaire, and I (who grew up watching reruns of Facts of Life after swim practice) am a writer pecking out articles for what amounts to minimum wage.
I blame TV.
A friend of mine said, “the only thing TV ever gave me was unrealistic expectations.” I agree. I had unrealistic expectations. What I saw on TV was that I was as talented and clever as any of those people. I was convinced that I would be a TV star if I just worked hard enough at it. Read this post if you want to see what happened when I tested that concept.
Now TV serves as a babysitter for me. I know…I can just picture all the mothers reading this cringe. Some of you are judging me. Heck, I am judging me as I type it. But it’s a fact that no mother gets a better chance at peace when managing her children then when they are watching TV. Not even the computer--that inexplicably can lose wireless, sound, or be stuck in the spinning wheel of death mode for hours--can transfix rowdy and demanding children better and more sustainably than the TV.
Early on in my parenting I was warned of the evils of letting your children watch too much TV. Vague recollections about reduced brain activity levels and higher risk of attention deficit disorder come to mind. I have a shadowy memory of some article that said kids that watch violence at too early an age are prone to drug and alcohol use. Not to mention all the moms that I really looked up to simply didn’t allow their children to watch TV. So I didn’t either.
That isn’t exactly true, I guess. I did let them watch two shows, a number chosen so they each could pick one. And back then, it was only on PBS kids, so shows like Super Why or Word World'. Never anything with commericials. Never anything with violence or sarcasm. Always a program intended to enrich little minds with an eagerness for knowledge and a desire to learn to read. This not only enriched my little progenies' minds, but also gave mommy a very much needed sanity break from their constant need for attention and dictatorial demands! I really looked forward to their TV time. I still do.
My kids learned about “other” channels at the gym. In my post, “There is No Substitute for the Sweat and Starve,” I chronicle my journey to joining the gym. It was a godsend. But when I started putting my kids in the childcare they provide, I was dismayed to see the TV in the corner. This meant that in addition to the TV time they got at home, they now got an hour of TV at the gym. AND it wasn’t PBS kids. It was a NICK channel and it had…COMMERCIALS!!!!
I was shocked. I was distressed. I was a control freak. I asked if we could change it to PBS, but was informed by the ladies that ran the daycare that they “No can change channel aqui.”
So I faced an important choice: take them out of the daycare and try to do some push ups and sit ups at home between changing batteries and fetching drinks and things off of high shelves for my kids, or unpucker and permit a little more traditional TV to poison my children’s pristine minds while I got some much needed mommy time. I chose the latter.
Jumping forward five years and adding another child to the mix, I am still clinging to the two shows a day rule. But I added another hour of “screen” time to accommodate the computer, iPad, Wii and other electronic devices available to my children in our hyper-connected and screen-addicted society. There are days, too, when I pretend I don’t notice that they have had more than their fair share of screen time and they pretend they are still on the first or second show…
But this oasis of peace among the chaos comes with a price, otherwise known as mommy guilt. I like it a little too much when they are occupied with the TV and not bugging me. The truth is that I don’t think I could parent without TV. When my temper snaps and I yank their most precious commodity, the sacred TV time, I groan inwardly realizing that I will now have to be a more active parent. TV affords me a chance to write for clients, myself, or even just take part in some other luxury activities, like showering. I am cranky when I am not going to get my break or will be forced to sing "Love Is an Open Door" from Frozen with my three-year-old while trying to shave my legs.
Not to mention that by making TV have a limit, I have made it the most desirable thing in the house. And honestly, I was trying to do anything but that. The kids are hyped up and crazy about their TV time, planning their whole days around when they will watch the next episode of Amazing Race or who gets to pick their show first.
What’s worse is that they don’t even know about social media yet. Gulp.
So when my children come to me to tell me that they are going to abandon their major in microbiology to pursue an acting career, I have no one but myself to blame. I allowed them to watch Sponge Bob at the gym. I was the one who decided that Power Rangers was acceptable programming for my Kindergarten and First-Grade children. And I was the one that allowed my youngest to watch Star Wars, A New Hope at the ripe old age of two. I guess I should start saving now for his rehab.
I suppose that as a mother, it is my job to mess my kids up. The psychotherapy industry literally depends upon it. Besides what mother would I be if I didn’t carry around a healthy dose of guilt?
So I have done my part in created the drooling, screen mesmerized zombies of the future that will demand more HD pixels in their holograms and larger bandwidth. Some day, I will teleport to their homes to find that they have transformed into the amorphous, non-ambulatory humans depicted in Disney Pixar’s Walle and I will have no one to blame but myself…and maybe the TV.