Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Moral High-Grounders and Other Idiots 1: TV

Last summer in the park I overheard two mothers falling over themselves to show how much they restrict television viewing for their children.

Mum A: Actually I can't remember what she said because I was so amazed by Mum B.

Mum B: Our kids are allowed to watch one DVD on a Friday afternoon before Shabbat (we have half-day school on Fridays before the Sabbath). And only if they ask for it. That's it. And if they forget to ask, they've missed it for another week.

She looked so pleased with herself and I wasn't in the mood to enter a discussion about it, so I kept my mouth shut. But it left me wondering - what did she think she was achieving with this draconian TV law?

First a little background. I came from a home where the TV was on from when we got home from school until the last person went to bed around midnight, except for the half hour when we retreated into the kitchen for supper, en famille, around the table. Even I think this was too much.

No one was forced to sit in the lounge and watch it, but it was a temptation that had to be actively fought in order to do something else. It was so easy to say - I'll just watch this programme and then I'll go and work. Before you knew it, it was 10pm and who feels like starting work at 10pm?

My sister, and many of my friends say - no TV until homework is finished and instruments practised. This seems like a good balance and one I will probably adopt when DD is old enough to do homework (either from school or set by me) and music practise.

For now, the TV and I are bringing up DD together. I put it on in the morning so that I can rush around doing what I need to do before we leave for Nursery and work. After Nursery we generally go to the park, out for tea at friends' houses, or to the shops. When we come in it is time for bath and supper. Then the TV goes on until stories and bed.

We usually do puzzles or drawing while the TV is on in the background. So why do we need it? We probably don't but it is company for me while DD is engrossed in her puzzles or artwork, even though I may be helping her. And sometimes she needs to just relax and watch and not do anything. Don't 2 1//2 year olds deserve some down time too?

A friend from Perth, Australia , grew up with early morning runs and swims at the beach, tennis after school, boating at weekends, etc... Another friend from Manchester, UK, grew up hurrying home from school in the rain and watching all this outdoor life on TV. They once debated if either of them, as adults, were better off as a result of their childhood lifestyles. Both are hard-working,  intelligent, enjoy hobbies (some active), and have full lives. There was no definite conclusion.

Bottom line: do what is convenient for you and your family, whatever saves your sanity. However, do allow your children the time to do other activities (obligatory or voluntary) without having to fight the temptation of the TV. And most important: do it quietly whilst recognising that other families have different criteria (for me this means: no Daddy to take over in the evening and I need to get some things done in peace). Please don't stuff your smug rigidity down the throats of all the human mums at the park.


  1. Ha Ha. I am from Manchester and I married a guy from Perth - and it's so true. He did the sports stuff and I watched it on TV. And nowadays we are both couch potatoes!

  2. Its not worth fretting over - Just do what you believe is the right thing for you and DD and let everyone else c*ck up their childrens life.

  3. By limiting anything you only make them want to do it even more... there are not limits on TV watching - my youngest is completely uninterested and the middle one will watch some and then switch it off without being told to do other things.. the oldest moves between tv, ipod and computer - but as long as she is not terrorizing the others - that's OK by me.

  4. i'm like you - a single mum so the tv goes on in the morning so i know she's ok while i'm in the shower etc. and it goes on again after bath and before bedtime stories, so i can get things done. occasionally, i feel she is watching too much, so i tell her is is broken for a couple of days, but then i give up and "fix" it (put it back in the electricity) :-)

  5. Don't fight it Nicole, it's not worth it. Thanks for the comments y'all. Funnily enough, I didn't here from any of the 'one minute a month' mothers. They probably have restrictions on their computer time.

  6. Maybe I misunderstood something, but it didn't sound to me like the mothers who limit television watching were rebuking you for the TV being a presence in your home. You "overheard" them. Were they really trying to "stuff their smug rigidity" down your throat? You have a sound rationale for your TV use, but isn't it fair to assume they have a fair rationale for not wanting much TV?
    (I'm sorry if this is a rude comment; I was just surprised to hear what sounded like resentment from you. Not that I know you, but your blog always sounds remarkably and impressively tolerant and easy-going).

  7. Anonymous - I agree that Mum B was doing what suited her and her family and that has probably had good reasons. However, any time a mum tells you the details of their parenting with a look of anticipation for the slap on the back - it makes me angry. It assumes that 'my way is right' and implies that anything less is lacking. That is why I ask: do it quietly. (This also applies to healthy snacks, natural births, and strict routines.)

    Btw, I wrote 'overheard' as I could see the mumpetition going on and chose not to join in, though I was with them.

    As for your apology - please don't. I applaud you. What would be the point of a list of: Well done you, and aren't you clever? Thanks for bringing in a little debate.

  8. I always used to have the TV on in the mornings when the children were younger, particularly when it kept them quiet and I needed to rush around doing essential stuff. Now it's not on in the mornings, much to their chagrin (and mine, a bit, I miss Spongebob Squarepants) and in the afternoons/evenings it's on when homework has been done, bags are packed for school the next day, rooms are tidy etc... But my kids are much older than DD -- and there is nothing -- N-O-T-H-I-N-G -- wrong with the amount of TV she watches. It is downtime, as you said -- and yes, 2 year olds are extremely entitled to some of that. As are 42 year olds. I know i enjoy TV as a retreat, after I've finished with my *malanta* of post-work daily chores. And I hate the unjustified morally superior attitudes you ascribe to the mothers in the park. Nothing gets up my nose further or with more alacrity. Stay strong!

  9. I think by definition, if your kid is out at daycare all day and therefore not watching tv, then having it on some in the morning and evening is just fine. And I too hate the implications around rules of parenting you get when people start talking about 'what they think is right'. I have a very nice neighbour, for example, who has told me she doesn't think it is right to send a kid younger than 2 to a full day at gan, when she knows I have sent my kid for a full day since he was 10 months old (because I need to work), but then at the same time her kids have absolutely no routine and are often up till 10pm, although they are 2 and 6 years old respectively. But I don't comment to her when I watch the kids running wild on a friday night because they are still up at 11pm.

    I found it so difficult to see all those recommendations of 'no tv before the age of 2' when my son was under 2. Sometimes you need something to distract the kid when you need to get things done, or when you're wondering how on earth to keep on entertaining a pre-verbal baby!

    Now, my son is 2.5. He is at daycare from 7.30 till 4, and is in bed by 7, before which there will be bath, singing lullabies and reading which takes up at least half an hour. There is no tv at daycare; it's all activities and learning and playing and stimulation. We don't have the tv on during shabbat, so that's an entire day when he's home with us that there's no tv. To me, with that kind of active life, plus a day when there is automatically no tv, if he wanted to watch tv 75% of the time he was home, it would be ok with me. We have dvds rather than tv, so he picks from suitable dvds, and often he is not interested, but would rather play with his toys or 'help' me cook. But I generally leave it up to him, given how much time he is busy doing other things. Of course that is with a 2.5 year old - I would agree that it is very sensible to insist on homework first when he is old enough to have homework.

    I don't remember clearly what tv levels were like at home when i was a kid - for sure we came in from school and watched children's tv for at least an hour or so. but i also clearly remember usually reading at least one book per night from the age of 8 upwards, so i wasn't glued to the tv. and i also remember being told 'no' a lot of the time - we never watched the 'cool' shows that other kids watched cos we weren't allowed, like dallas and dynasty. even getting to watch top of the pops was a fight!

  10. PLTMama and Beth - Thank you both for your detailed comments. I agree that we have a unique situation here in Israel where our 2yos are effectively in 'school' from 7.30am till 4pm. Therefore they really do need some down time in the evening.
    And, very important to acknowledge that mothers who need to work full time and sinlge mothers, etc... need to use the TV to survive. A bit of extra TV is better than no supper prepared.
    Beth - I envy you that your son is asleep by 7pm. How do you manage that? DD naps at Nursery and that keeps her up till 9pm sometimes. And you are absolutely right that there are limits on a 2yo's activities - we can and will expand their non-tv activities when they are older.

  11. We had many sleep issues with our son when he was younger - it was a real struggle to get him to sleep through the night, and in fact until he was around 2 he was still waking up sometimes once a night. Having said which, I think he's just one of those kids who needs a fair amount of sleep, although I think that is beginning to change. Towards the beginning of this (school) year, for example, I was letting him stay up till 7.45ish twice a week, because twice a week my husband only gets home at 7.20, so I'd keep him up so he could say goodnight (luckily for all of us, every other night my husband is home just after 5). We found that he was in a miserable mood every morning, totally grouchy. When we started insisting on getting him into bed between 6.45 and 7, the grouchiness disappeared, so we realized he just needed more sleep. And on weekends his nap in the afternoon can also end up over 2 hours long. He has a 1.5 hour nap at gan, so I guess at that point he was still needing upwards of 13 hours per day. A couple months ago, he was also sleeping in late on shabbat mornings (like 9am late! it was amazing!). Granted he would go to bed later on friday night. But over the past few weeks he's stopped doing that, and is waking up early even if he goes to bed later. And this morning he was up by 6.15 instead of us having to wake him at 7. So I think his sleep needs may be lessening. So we may find over the next month or so that his bedtimes start moving later.

    Next year he won't get a nap at gan, so I'm hoping that means he'll still have a decent bedtime. I have friends whose kids are already 3ish who are still put down for a nap at gan, despite their protestations and it means the are running wild till 9 or later at night because they're just not tired. I'm glad I won't have to deal with that.

  12. I am totally with you on the TV thing..I do often worry that my little boy watches too much and try to keep it within limits as best I can but sometimes it is a necessity. It's funny as a wrote a post on Baby Born Frees Blog about it...I don't know if you ever look on there, but actually I think it will reassure you as we have similar ideas. Lovely to come and read your blog..hooray for show for showcase so I can find you. xx

  13. Our TV is on whenever there is someone at home and awake! It's just how it is. We don't sit glued to it, but I must admit it is very useful when I am working from home.
    You do what you feel is right for your family at the time. As J gets older we will probably start to restrict it but for now it works.
    Great post!

  14. Thanks for your comments Multiple Mummy and Seasider in the City. Nive to meet you both.

  15. It sounds like you sit and watch TV together and do other things while its on too so I think that's fine. Sometimes you need to get on and do things and I find the TV is the only thing which will keep my daughter occupied while I'm busy. We all have to find what works for us.

  16. Here come - and that is the bottom line: what works for us. Thanks for commenting.

  17. We dont watch aot of Tv, but thats because we're always on the computers, like now for example my boys and other half are playing on the computers on an online game, I'm just scouting round some blogs and my daughters sat in the middle of the room playing with sylvanian families, I sometimes think my boys spend too much time on computers but then again they do switch them off to do other things and whilst they are on them they are constantly chattering away to each other x

  18. Sarah - I think you are right to also see the advantages in screens in that they often provide things to discuss. We would notice if our kids were turning into zombies and they are clearly not.
    What chanel is Syvain families on? Just kidding.