Since you all know how much I love television, the next question is “What is your family’s TV policy?” Since I want Fluffy to grow up to be an actress and later director, we put on our matching berets and start our daily movie marathon at 6am. In actuality, I started with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and adapted to fit my family.
1. No screens until 2.
This excludes an app called Rattle that we use for waiting room purposes and that failed attempt to interest the boys in Baby Einstein on the plane.
The research in Brain Rules for Baby sold me on this rule. I don’t let my kids watch television or movies before about age two. Since I watch television, I have to blindfold the boys most of the day which results in a lot of injuries, but hey, better that than watching television. I kid of course. Since I don’t turn on any baby shows, they have shown no interest in the television.
The boys can see whatever G might be watching on the DVD player in the car, and I don’t worry about it.
2. Lessons first.
While Fluffy is in preschool, my main rule is that she is not allowed to use any screens at all until she finishes her lessons for the day. While I was teaching her to read, she had to finish her 30-40 minute reading lesson with me, then practice the piano and ballet before any screens. Now that she’s literate, she must read a book to me, then do a writing lesson and a math lesson from various work books I’ve bought for her. Recently, that rule has been expanded from “screen time” to include all “play time”. Lessons come first, no loopholes.
3. In the car, but only after interaction.
Generally, I let Fluffy watch something when we’re going to be in the car for longer than half an hour if she’s a) done her lessons, and b) talks to me for a while first. We use car time to memorize things (check out this video of her reciting part of the Declaration of Independence as learned in the car), to practice math, to play 20 questions, to point things out to each other and just to chat. She has to give me an account of her preschool day or her acting class when I pick her up and gets penalized if she asks for a show too quickly. Of course when I’m in a mood, the chatting phase before the movie is short. “Mommy! Are you putting on one of my stupid shows?!”
4. Not too much.
Doing all her lessons without whining guarantees Fluffy one show or one iPad game. Anything after that is at my discretion and is often held out as a carrot for helping her brothers or me. I know she’s watching too much when she gets whiney and entitled about it.
Years ago, I briefly nannied for a family where the kids had a 1 hour per day TV limit. They would race to the TV and start it the instant I got there. Consequently, we always had to turn the TV off in the middle of ER. The 14yo boy tried to get me to waive the rule every single day. Ha! He had no idea who he was dealing with.
5. Controlled content.
Fluffy can navigate Netflix, play her own videos and surf Tivo, so it would be easy to put the cruise control on her viewing. I’ve learned the hard way that is a bad idea. I almost think what she watches is more important than how much. There are funny, sweet, and informative kids shows out there amid the sea of “adults are so lame”, catty, bratty, brainless, dreck.
When Fluffy came of age, we let her watch Jack’s Big Music Show. We got totally carried away. Kent and I would watch it with her, singing along like it was a mommy-and-me class. Then came various other PBS cartoons, Veggie Tales and Pixar movies with Daddy. Disney cartoons and movies came on the scene after she turned 3.
Of course I want her to watch strictly documentaries from National Geographic and the History Chanel, but I’ll settle for things that aren’t crass and that don’t glorify conflict, disrespect for elders, and bratitude.
6. Better together.
More than anything, I look for shows Fluffy and I can watch together and talk about. With the proliferation of viewing choice, it’s all too easy to lose one’s tolerance of anything other than your own niche genre. Gone are the days when we all watched The Cosby Show together and had something to talk about as a family. We have enough screens in the house that we could all live completely separate viewing lives. Danger! That’s one way to ensure you grow apart from your spouse and your kids.
Watching TV with a parent can be one of the most interactive, fulfilling activities kids do in the day if you make it that way. Fluffy and I watch Project Runway and Sweet Genius together. She gets bored during the mandatory construction drama (as do I), so we often skip to the runway show of Project Runway. We do a lot of pausing the show for me to ask, “Who do you think is going to be eliminated? What kind of cake would you have made with that inspiration? Do you think that skirt looks too big or just right?” We sometimes watch American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance as well, again with a lot of fast-forwarding.
I also try to get her to watch period dramas and classics, “Mommy shows”, with me. She loves Gone With the Wind (dresses!), My Fair Lady (dresses!), and various other things like the latest BBC version of Great Expectations. I’ve tried twice to get her to watch Anne of Green Gables with me. No interest. Now that we’ve finished reading Heidi aloud together and almost finished The Secret Garden, we will watch videos of those together. I love watching TV with my little girl. It’s great girl time. Sure, it’s possible that if we replaced all of viewing time together with reading time together we would be even better off, but banishing TV would not have that effect. Neither of us would commit to a full screen-to-book substitution. We just wouldn’t spend as much time together.
7. Keep Evolving.
I won’t pretend I’m 100% happy with our system or that Fluffy would have as much screen time as she does if I had not been on bedrest for 4 months and then twinfancy for 20.
Letting my 5yo watch television can be a lot of work. I am constantly taking the temperature of the system. Is she watching too much? Should I let her watch Judy Moody? (Answer, no. Not now, maybe never.) Is The Parent Trap teaching her to deceive her parents? The worst part is that in order to form an opinion of whether or not something is okay for her to watch, I have to listen to it. I hate kids shows. Hate, hate, hate. But I love my Fluff enough to be involved.
The next step in the evolution is a quantity limit. Fluffy and I both need one. Previously, my limitation was quality based. I made a list of top tier shows that were acceptable, and disallowed anything else. I have difficulty keeping this going since Kent is constantly flooding the Netflix queue with every inane thing he thinks Fluffy might like.
Another interesting idea is the screen free zone. We let Fluffy use her iPad in her room for lessons and music at night, but maybe that is not the best idea.
What do you do? Do you have screen-free zones? Do you have time limits or content limits?